Organic Food

Information to Think On Before You Purchase Food – Hydroponics, AFO/CAFO Meats, Vitamins, and Grain for Your Animals You Might Think is Organic

Most in our society have lost track of the fact that good health comes from real food. Real food is from healthy soil and is packed with nutrients and free from poisons and other chemicals.

Unfortunately some of the biggest companies that control our food
(directly or indirectly) are interested only in making a profit rather than also offering healthful food.

They have the money to hire the best lobbyists to influence law making; and the means to form the beliefs of the masses via promotion and marketing.

They’re also able to infiltrate any organic programs that exist and – given enough time — can determine the laws and guidelines being set for organic. (Which they have already done.)

This is by far one of the greatest detriments to our health.

It’s all very subtle and unless we question and are aware, we’ll fall right into line and believe exactly what they want us to believe; thus, increasing their profit and decreasing our health.

Organic farming and gardening has always been based on “feed the soil and the soil will feed and take care of the plants”.

Modern industrial agriculture is based on “feed the plants and never mind the soil”.  Hydroponics has even done away with the soil.

Corporate Influence Takes Over the National Organic Program

In the past decade it’s become obvious that organic farming is more than a passing fad and that there’s money to be made. Thus, it’s attracted corporate attention.

Unfortunately, many of these businesses are only interested in following enough of the rules to gain organic certification. Better yet, they would much prefer to change the law (regarding organic) to go along with how they already do things.

They’ve already done that to a great degree.

One example is the recent vote  (November 1, 2017) by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to allow hydroponic productions to be eligible for United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic certification.


The bottom line behind hydroponic is making more money. It’s popular because it’s suppose to be easier than in-soil growing and there’s more money to be made.

Hydroponic vegetables and fruits are grown in containers filled with coco coir or rockwool or peat rather than soil. (Coco coir is popular now because it’s more resistant to breaking down and can be used over and over.)

Liquid fertilizer is then pumped into the containers to feed the plants.

Some produce is even grown without sunlight under artificial lights.

Seemingly, it would be impossible for hydroponics to be eligible for organic certification,  because to grow real organic requires soil.  And there is no soil in hydroponics.

So how did they do it?

They changed the definition of organic (took the soil part out) so they wouldn’t have to change how they do things to qualify for organic certification.

This will have far reaching affects. And will influence the standards for the rest of the world.

Changing the Definition Doesn’t Change Facts

Dave Chapman has farmed organically for 37 years (Long Wind Farm in Vermont) and served a year on the USDA hydroponic task force.

He had this to say about changing the definition for organic:

“The USDA (US Department of Agriculture) has the legal right to define organic in keeping with OFPA (Organic Foods Production Act). But it has never been given permission to reinvent organic in order to serve the market needs of favored enterprises.

The NOP (National Organic Program) was created to serve and protect, not to reinvent. Hard-won trust in the organic seal is being destroyed, and it will not be easily won back.

—When organic certification is reduced to a marketing strategy that misleads consumers, it loses its soul, and it will soon lose its followers as well.”

Another Example of How Corporate Take-Over Happens

It was disappointing to many to see the Organic Trade Association lobby in favor of the NOSB change to include hydroponics in organic certification.

Businesses in the organic community can join the Organic Trade Association (OTA) by paying a membership fee (dues). Dues, which are based on the company’s organic sales, range from a low of $50 to $47,300.00 for sales over two billion. An additional $5,000 in dues is added for each billion in sales over the two billion mark.

Driscalls, the world’s largest distributor of conventionally grown and supposedly “organically” grown berries, is in this last category and is a core member of OTA.

Over 1,000 acres of their organic berries are hydroponic.  All grown in a bucket filled with coconut husks with feed coming in by dripper.

Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that OTA lobbied in favor of the change to include hydroponics in organic certification.

It must have been upsetting for members of OTA who grow “real” organic food and had no say in this.

How Can You Tell If Produce is Hydroponic?

In most cases, you can’t.

In spite of the fact that more than 35% of the organic tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers in grocery stores are hydroponically produced they are not labeled. And no one says they have to be.

The Miracle of Soil

In the last decade science has learned so much about the miracles of the soil, and they’re just scratching the surface.

Eliot Coleman, pioneer organic farmer and author, put it simply and well:

“There is no way that an artificial system can duplicate what is going on in the soil.”

Still Believe the Popular Idea That Chemicals (often referred to as “science”) Can Duplicate What Nature Offers?

At the end of this section I’ll give the web address to a video that’s a great place to start your education about why and how that idea is incorrect.

This 48 minute video is well worth your time! Dr. Schultz (a pioneer in herbal medicine) can be very entertaining and that’s a bonus. So this is NOT a stuffy, boring video.

In explaining why ascorbic acid is NOT vitamin C, he makes the point of the folly of trying to outdo nature.

For example: Vitamin C from food is composed of over 5,000 compounds that scientist have found thus far.

Synthetic Vitamin C is one chemical: ascorbic acid.

At the end of the video Schultz speaks about chemical synthetics not being the same as the real thing.

Synthetic “anything” is created in the first place because it’s cheaper to make than from the real thing. In this case he’s talking about vitamins, but the same concept applies to other things like vegetables. (Hydroponics for example.)

If you’re interested in learning and pulling out of the programming that most of us have been subjected to, I encourage you to watch this video as soon as possible. And remember to bookmark it, because it’s one that you’ll want to watch more than once in order to absorb every piece of  information given.

Update September 2022 – Dr. Schulze has shortened this video to 1 1/2 minutes.  It was originally part of a talk that gave much more information as I’ve indicated above. But he still makes the point. To watch, cut and paste this url into your browser:

Board Member Lays Out the Facts for Public Record in Farewell Address

Francis Thicke has been an organic farmer for more than 30 years. He’s been active in many organic and environmental organizations and served as a National Program Leader for Soil Science at the USDA Extension Service.

Dr. Thicke, a scientist specializing in soil fertility with working knowledge of agricultural and food chemistry, served as a member of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) for 5 years.

At the NOSB meeting in November his term on the Board ended and he gave his farewell address which is now public record.

This was important because Dr. Thicke was very specific in pointing out how organic principles had not been adhered to and showed the lack of integrity in the National Organic Program.

#1 – Almost immediately he mentioned that the industry has a “growing influence on the US Dept. of Agriculture and on appointments to the National Organic Standards Board compared to the influence of organic farmers who started the organic farming movement.”

#2 – “We now have ‘organic’ chicken CAFOs with 200,000 birds crammed into a building with no real access to the outdoors, —

#3 – “We have ‘organic’ dairy CAFOs with 15,000 cows in a feedlot in a desert, — — when USDA does its obligatory “investigation,” instead of a surprise visit to the facility, USDA gives them a heads up by making an appointment, so the CAFO can move cows from feedlots to pasture on the day of inspection.”

What is AFO? What is CAFO?

The Natural Resources Conservation Service/US Department of Agriculture website defines AFOs and CAFOs as follows:

  • AFOs are “ agricultural enterprises where animals are kept and raised in confined situations. AFOs congregate animals, feed, manure and urine, dead animals, and production operations on a small land area. Feed is brought to the animals rather than the animals grazing or otherwise seeking feed in pastures, fields, or on range land.”


  • “A CAFO is an AFO with more than 1000 animal units (an animal unit is defined as an animal equivalent of 1000 pounds live weight and equates to 1000 head of beef cattle, 700 dairy cows, 2500 swine weighing more than 55 lbs, 125 thousand broiler chickens, or 82 thousand laying hens or pullets) confined on site for more than 45 days during the year.  Any size AFO that discharges manure or wastewater into a natural or man-made ditch, stream or other waterway is defined as a CAFO, regardless of size. “

(The main difference is AFOs are smaller than CAFOs.)

#4 – He spoke of the large grain shipments from eastern Europe that are raised conventionally and relabeled as organic before they reach the United States.

(I believe Peter Whoriskey, a Washington Post reporter, was the first to bring this story to light. You can read it here:

Thicke also pointed out that “The USDA has been slow to take action to stop this, and organic crop farmers in the US are suffering financially as a result.”

Our farmers find it difficult to get a fair price for their organic grains because the larger end users will buy the cheaper imported grains.

#5 – “— a rapidly growing percentage of the organic fruits and vegetables on grocery store shelves (are) being produced hydroponically, without soil, and mostly in huge industrial-scale facilities.”

#6 – “— we have a hydroponics industry that has deceptively renamed ‘hydroponic’ production—even with 100% liquid feeding—as ‘container’ production.

(Container grown vegetables that use soil can qualify for organic certification.)

#7 – Nearing the end, he expressed his hope of years back that through continuous improvement the USDA organic label would be the gold standard.

Dr. Thicke then states, “Now I can see that the influence of big business is not going to let that happen. The USDA is increasingly exerting control over the NOSB, and big business is tightening its grip on the USDA and Congress. Recently industry representatives have publicly called on the US Senate to weaken the NOSB and give industry a stronger role in the National Organic Program.”

#8 – He suggested an “add-on organic label that will enable real organic farmers and discerning organic consumers to support one another through a label that represents real organic food.”

Is This the Downfall of the National Organic Program?

In closing his remarks Dr. Thicke stated, “Either we can continue to allow industry interests to bend and dilute the organic rules to their benefit, or organic farmers—working with organic consumers–can step up and take action to ensure organic integrity into the future.”

​Final Thoughts

As consumers, we have to stay informed enough to enable us to protect ourselves and our families. None of us can know it all or keep up with it all.  And most of the time we don’t have to. Sometimes just reading headlines will alert you to what’s happening. You may not need more details until some time in the future.

Hopefully this post will arm you with the overall information you need to make wise decisions about what you’re going to do.

One suggestion – grow as much of your own food as you can. If you need help, I’m here.


Related Posts and Suggested Reading

3 Books That Can Change Your Garden, Your Health, and the Way you Look at Life

Has the National Organic Program Already Been Destroyed?  (I wrote this in 2014)

If you’d like to read Dr. Thicke’s address in its entirety cut and paste this url into your browser:

On that same page you can click to watch a video with Dave Chapman and Eliot Coleman.


All content including photos is copyrighted by  All Rights Reserved.


  • Thank you so much Theresa, for your insight and diligent reporting. 😉
    Knowledge is POWER!! You are and have always been an amazing wealth of information and experience for home gardening – I am forever grateful. 🙂

  • Good Morning and a big THANK YOU Theresa!

    I have been enjoying and following you for a couple of years or so. You are the best for sure and as a long time gardener I am with you 100% regarding your gardening philosophy and methods. This last post regarding Organic, big government, agriculture and big money to get around the meaning of organic to fool you and me and offer the public inferior foods for profits is a disgrace and an outrage and is unethical in my opinion.

    I ask that all of us put pressure on our elected officials state and national to make sure organic is “organic” and not just a name in some cases to scam the consumer.

    I have been gardening in zone 5 in central Iowa forever. Fruits, berries and vegetables some of it wild like the mulberries, blackberries and mushrooms. I live in the heart of the corn belt and that factory food grows all around me.

    Please keep up the good work Theresa. You are an inspiration.

    Everyone contact your elected officials today please. We can make a difference.

    Thanks, Jim

  • This is disappointing to know…but not surprising in the least. Jim’s comment reflects my feelings on this as well. I continue to work to invest in honest companies. I’ll make sure I’m voicing my concerns to our reps as well. Theresa, is there a mailing list you know of which offers a call to action when these concerns come up in the community?

  • Ladychef, Beth, and Jim —thank you so much for your comments and your appreciation. I felt this was a very important post – because as I mentioned, we can’t always know everything and this information is so important to decisions we make.

    Patricia, I don’t know of a mailing list per se. However, I’ll let you know via personal email the next time something comes up and I see it. The other suggestion is that you may want to subscribe to the Wood Prairie Farm Newsletter. Jim (Gerritsen) is very active in the organic community and his newsletter will definitely “tip you off” if something important is happening. Often he will provide information about how to help or at least sign a petition.

    Thanks again to you all of you for letting me know you found the post helpful.

  • Patricia, if you’d like to sign up for the free Wood Prairie Family Farm ‘Seed Piece’ e-newsletter here is the link:
    The Seed Piece’ Archive contains issues going back over 20 years.
    We also use FaceBook as a daily news feed on items of importance to the organic community ( Today for example, we posted a piece about the importance of soil to organic farming AND the planet. Thanks. Jim

  • Thank you, Theresa and Jim. I have signed up for the newsletter and have “liked” the Wood Prairie Farm page on Facebook. Thank you both for all that you do!

  • Thank you Theresa. I grow organically for my family and love the soil. I live in Zone 3-4 in Minnesota. I have read Eliot Coleman and extend my fresh produce season with a small unheated greenhouse. But, winters are harsh here and the Green House gives in to winter too. I experimented with Kratky’s Non-Circulating Hydroponics and with growing miro-greens to get me through the winters this past winter. The greens tasted good….I want to believe that there is an organic way to grow hydroponically. Fish emulsion? Oh, Help!

  • Jeanne, I don’t have any greenhouse and couldn’t afford to have a set up like Eliot Coleman anyway. He’s a market gardener and for home gardening very simple things can get the job done and keep you in greens all winter.

    You might want to read and look at the pictures in these three posts to help you:


  • Theresa,
    In this ever changing tech age I failed to get your blog post the last 2 times. So I am just now catching up. As long as greedy, power hungry, sexually addictive people are around there will always be scams. Unfortunately this list of three includes more people than we will ever care to know about or admit.

    I enjoyed the article and anytime I am tempted to do something chemically to my garden, I think of folks like you. You guys are the standard by which we can all enjoy chemical free food.

    I also like that you have almost 4 decades of experience. That is a lot of history!!!!!! I found your blog my first year of gardening. I grow everything from seed, have blueberries, strawberries, peach tree, apple trees, apricot tree and working on getting year round production from my garden.

    I am at the point I need to transition from casual gardener to serious gardener. This spring will be my fifth season of enjoying fresh natural food. There is nothing like it from the market or stores.

    I could praise your efforts to educate for a long time. You have personally helped me solve problems with gardening many times. This proves your dedication to educate because you don’t know me at all, except through your blog.
    I want to say Merry Christmas, God keep you, and bless you.

  • I am interested to know how to begin raising my own chickens. I bought one from the store and the meat by the bone was green. please I need advice on how to begin.

  • Roxann, I sure relate to your experience with store bought chicken. If folks knew how most market chickens were “handled” they’d never think of eating one.
    I don’t raise chickens so I can’t give you first hand advice. However, a great place to start your research would be by Googling “Mother Earth News – raising chickens” .The page that comes up has some excellent articles you can click on. Don’t stop at one article. To be really prepared you’ll want to read all you can.
    Good luck with this. Let me know how you are progressing.

  • My wife and I are living our dreams, deserting life in the city and now homesteading in rural Alabama, growing our own food with Tending My Garden as our guide.

    While we only grow for ourselves right now, we consider expanding a bit for more income. We have friends trying to convince us that hydroponic is the smartest way to go. I remember the first time I tasted a hydroponic tomato. I thought surely that whole idea would never catch on.

    Now I hear of chefs who embrace it because they don’t have to wash the produce! I am dismayed that they would compromise the integrity of their food, from the standpoint of taste alone, for convenience.

    But to even remotely claim that hydroponics can be Organic just can’t possibly be right. For plants to depend solely on what you add to the water they grow in is so unnatural I can’t even get my mind around it. If you can’t even say something is natural, how on earth could it be Organic? Good food comes from good dirt!

  • WOW I am enjoying your blog so much! I found your site within the past week and it just keeps getting better. So far I have read a handful of gardening articles, very helpful to me as this is the first year I have ever had a garden. Then I read the story about you and your husband bending all the rules to follow your dreams, and that made me admire you so much!! Then I read your opinion on meat – I haven’t eaten meat in 5 years so that made me happy. Now I see these articles about the organic food industry and that is so helpful, I have been trying to go more organic but in my gut I knew something still wasn’t right. You have the unique ability to speak your mind in a direct and comprehensive manner while still being charming and easy to understand. I love that! Your depth of knowledge and passion is very evident to the reader. I already bought your book and signed up for your newsletter. Thank you for starting this blog! You are so great!!

  • Monique, I am so pleased that you are enjoying and learning from what I write.
    Thanks you so much for this wonderfully encouraging input. It really means a lot to me and helps give me the incentive to keep writing.
    I mailed your book this morning!
    Thank you Monique and WELCOME TO TMG!!

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