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Vermont Organic Farmers Stage Protest Against “Organic” Hydroponics at NOSB in Stowe

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2015 November Issue Newsletter

by Jack Kittredge

Norwich organic Grower Jake Guest speaking at rally Monday,Oct-26

You may have heard about, or seen media reports on, the organic farmers protesting in Stowe, Vermont the last week in October. A few tractors roared about and 50 or so farmers dumped manure and rallied in a parking lot outside where the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) was meeting.

The issue? Despite a 2010 recommendation from the NOSB that hydroponic plants grown without soil should not be considered organic, the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) has allowed produce grown hydroponically, in water but not soil, to be certified organic.

Organic farmer Pete Johnson of Craftsbury helps Jake Guest climb a manure pile i rall“Organic farming of terrestrial plants needs to happen in the soil”, said Dave Chapman, a certified organic tomato grower from Long Wind Farm in East Thetford and organizer of the protest. “It’s a basic principle of organic farming that you feed the soil, not the plant. You cultivate the life in the soil.”

The National Organic Coalition (NOC), a collection of organic farming and consumer groups, says in its position paper on hydroponic production:

The central theme and foundation of organic farming is the maintenance and management of organic matter in the soil, along with the diverse populations of organisms that are the foundation of soil ecosystems. Macro and microorganisms found in abundance in a well-maintained soil tie together a web of interactions that conserve and recycle the elements between all the living organisms and minerals in the system…

The NOSB Crops Committee Recommendation "Production Standards for Terrestrial Plants in Containers and Enclosures" underscores this point. The recommendation stresses that organic farmers are not just tillers of the soil, but also stewards of the soil ecology on the farm and shepherds of the myriad organisms that support thriving soil ecosystems. They do not just open bags of nutrients to feed crops and then become certified organic farmers…

Until a clear definition has been provided by the NOP, certifiers should not be allowed to certify hydroponic systems. Certifiers need to be directed as to which systems may be certified, and which do not meet the criteria and are not eligible for organic certification. NOC urges the NOP to write “NOP Instruction to Certifiers” that leads to Rulemaking. The instruction should include clear criteria that follow the NOSB 2010 recommendation, and adhere to the definition of organic production presented in the Rule.

The NOSB is a 15-member volunteer group that advises the NOP on organic standards.  A new federal hydroponics task force is scheduled to meet in early November to study current hydroponic production methods and report back to the NOSB in a year. Until then the NOP plans to allow hydroponic organic certification to continue.

If you wish to sign a petition against hydroponics in organic agriculture, go to


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