Change the Way You Think

by Tom Tomas

You can't buy healthy soil in a bag or a bottle or a box. Healthy soil is the result of working with what nature provides locally. Local resources recycled through natural processes of decomposition, which contribute food for earthworms, bacteria and fungi, provide the basis for soil fertility. Building healthy soil results in healthy crops. That is the basis of organic gardening.

I have been reading organic magazines and papers since the 1950's and have seen countless ads that extol the virtues of one wonder product or another. Many of them appear each decade under a new name, complete with testimonials as to their amazing results. Most of them cost way too much for any benefit they may give, and all of them depend on basic soil building with sound organic practices. Building soil makes the real difference.

I have asked myself "Why do organic growers continue to seek an instant formula for organic soil? Don't they know that the basis of organic production is working with local resources in a natural way?" I have come to the conclusion that the transition to an organic growing philosophy is much more difficult than the transition to organic practices. It is much more difficult to change our way of thinking than it is to change our way of doing things.

In our culture, we have been trained to identify a problem and then buy a bag or a box or a bottle of something to solve that problem. Advertising adeptly creates problems for us that we are not even aware of, and then presents the solution to those problems in the form of products we otherwise wouldn't consider buying. Given this life-long training, it is no wonder that when we approach organic gardening for the first time we look for purchased products to get us started.

If you feel the need to buy something to become successful in organic gardening, I suggest that you buy things that will help you change the way you think. Buy books. For example, in The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka, the author presents an idea that it took him years to develop. "What would happen if I did nothing?" He was asking what would happen if he tried to produce food with the least possible intervention in nature's processes. That is a powerful question. If each problem we encounter must pass this test before we try to solve it, we will have fewer problems that seem to require solutions.

Another question that arises from this is "how much is enough?" What should we expect an organic system to produce on a sustainable basis, year after year? If a given yield cannot be sustained by local resources without depleting them or supplementing them with purchased inputs, does it make sense to strive for higher yields? Sooner or later we will have to learn to live within the limits of our local biological systems. We will have to address the question of how much is enough.

I would encourage you to subscribe to publications on organic gardening. You will find ideas and inspiration from other organic gardeners. As you read the articles and advertisements, apply the following test: Do they tell me how they became better gardeners by working with nature and using local resources, or are they trying to sell something?

Whenever I read an article or an advertisement that extols the virtues of a product, I immediately become suspicious. When I read an article or an advertisement that tells me how I can use a local resource and work with nature to improve my garden, I am more receptive. Advertisements for books on organic gardening always catch my interest because they have the potential to present new ideas that may change the way I think. Changing the way you think about gardening is the most difficult and rewarding part.

Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society: Home      Gardening