The question might seem simple enough, but there are a lot of people asking it. I had been asked a few times myself, and the other day at work, I overheard the question again. Is there a difference between sustainable and organic? Well, the simple answer is yes, but as just about any other seemingly simple question, the answer is never as simple as a quick yes or no.
Sustainability is quite simply the capacity to support, and maintain a specific environmental, economic, and social homeostasis. For many farmers and gardeners, it’s about taking an active role in the stewardship of the Earth, thus creating a symbiotic relationship with the Earth. Most believe that in order to maintain a level of true sustainability, growing using organic methods are necessary.
Organic is growing using more traditional methods rather than relying on chemicals and genetically engineered product. Organic agriculture often relies on crop rotation, and the permaculture methods in which have been used since the very beginning of agriculture.
The biggest misconception I’ve heard is that if you’re organic, you’re sustainable. Well, this isn’t the case. There are many farmers out there who are organic, but are far from sustainable. I know more than my share who will tell you that they are sustainable, but if you recall, prior to the dust bowl, most farmers were still farming to the standard in which would allow them to certify as organic. The problem was they were not using sustainable methods, such as proper crop rotation and permaculture. They were, as many still are today, both organic and conventional, using the monoculture methods which are pushed heavily by the market and by government programs.
When growing sustainable, organic is necessary. I’m not saying that everyone needs to go out to certify, that would be insane for the average gardener, but using organic seed, soil, fertilizer, without chemicals or genetically modified material is essential for the long term sustainability of your garden..
Our Tiny Earth is working towards being a sustainable urban farm. It’s not something that just happens overnight, but it’s something we believe we can achieve. Most of the seed we use is certified organic, as is the soil, and fertilizer. The compost is not certified, as we make it ourselves and see no point in having a personal garden certified. We have been known to use untreated seed, which means that it has not been treated with any chemicals, nor is it a GMO seed. We have a plan for crop rotation, which allows for a strong, healthy, and nutrient rich soil and also helps with pest control. We use rain water, in which we collect in rain barrels to irrigate our crops as well as a drip irrigation system, which allows for the conservation of water. We plant a very wide variety of veggies, as the more we plant, the higher rate of success we will have.
So, in a nutshell, sustainability and organic are not the same. To grow organic, one does not need to be growing using sustainable practices, but by being sustainable, one does need to adhere to organic practices.