Elegant Technology vs. Brute Force

From: Barbara Lamar (altamiratexas@earthlink.net)
Date: Fri Apr 20 2001 - 16:45:16 MDT

A while back I mentioned that in order to give meaningful answers to
anti-tech propaganda, one must understand its valid points. Below is an
article addressing one of the valid anti-tech points. Generally held beliefs
(eg. that "the world" would starve without the use of toxic pesticides and
that one must expend a huge amount labor--human or machine--to grow one's
food) are wrong. To say that agricultural efficiency doesn't matter one way
or the other because some day we'll have nanotechnology or inorganic bodies
is not (IMO) a meaningful response.

The research described below was done with apple trees.

FWIW, some of my easiest food crops are fruiting trees and vines: peaches,
figs, persimmons, blueberries, pears, plums, mulberries and blackberries (I
grow other fruits as well, such as citrus, but these require more care, not
being ideally suited to this climate). The trees and vines are presently
loaded with fruit, some of which is ripe now. The remainder will ripen over
the next few months. Aside from planting the domesticated trees and watering
them during the first year while they were getting their roots established,
and now and then throwing on some mulch and compost, the only work I have to
do is to pick the fruit. The compost is made from our garbage--all we do is
toss it on the pile; the bacteria and other critters do all the work of
converting it. The fruit requires no cooking or other elaborate preparation,
though sometimes for fun I use it in pie or sorbet. Picking the fruit and
eating it straight from the tree are far less bother than going to a grocery
store or restaurant. Here are a few photos to illustrate what I'm talking
about. With the exception of the strawberries, none of these crops required
any work at all from me other than once-annual mulching after the first year
(the wild stuff, ofcourse, required no work whatever).

It's true that not everyone has access to enough land to grow fruit trees.
However, even with presently available varieties of food plants, it's
possible to feed a person from an amazingly small volume of space. With the
right kind of genetic engineering this volume could be further decreased,
and more crops could be designed to produce food that's palatable and
nutritious without cooking or other preparation (this last is the problem I
see with growing yeast-type food crops--they taste horrible unless they're
processed, which requires work and space. Genetic engineering could likely
remedy this problem). I can imagine a food-factory/garbage conversion unit
(of volume, say, 10 ft. cubed) being a standard feature for all apartments
and houses. In addition to providing food in exchange for very little
effort, the food factory could be visually attractive. (note that I'm using
the term "garbage" to include solid and liquid waste products from human
metabolism). This idea seems very strange to most people who are used to
buying food, whereas the idea of flushing excrement and toxic chemicals into
the drinking water seems perrfectly fine. But if you step outside the
culture and look at the situation objectively, many of the present uses of
technology are quite illogical if one's goal is to live well for a long

Anyhow, here's a news report of research described in the current issue of




APRIL 18, 14:00 EST

Organic Farming Can Be Profitable

Associated Press Writer

Organic farming could be healthy for profits as well as the soil, according
to a new six-year study of apple orchards.

Concerns about pesticides leaching into drinking water have opened a debate
over organic farming techniques, which instead of chemicals use natural
fertilizers and biological pest controls.

Washington State University researcher John Reganold, who conducted the
study of apple growing techniques, suggests that organic farming, at least
in apple production, can raise profits, improve soil quality and produce
sweeter, firmer fruit than conventional practices.

``The health of the trees, apples, soil, fungi, earthworms, how well clods
hold together - we looked at everything,'' Reganold said.

The study is in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

The researchers divided an apple orchard into plots that used organic
methods, conventional techniques or a mix of both, called integrated

The convention plot was treated with chemical pesticides and fertilizers
while the organic system used compost, manures, and biological pest
controls. Weeds were controlled in the organic plot with cover crops,
mulching and mechanical methods, including burning.

Each test orchard at the site near the central Washington town of Zillah was
measured for impacts on soil quality, fruit quality, profitability,
environmental quality and energy efficiency.

``The bottom line is that organic outperforms the others,'' Reganold said.

The study indicated the organic orchard would break even on operating cost
nine years after planting, compared to 15 years using conventional methods
and 16 years for integrated management.

Soil quality ratings were much higher for organic and integrated systems,
largely due to the addition of compost and mulch, Reganold said.

``We were adding compost and chicken manure to the organic and integrated
plots, so it's not rocket science,'' he said. ``But it turns out that
organic matter improves almost everything about the soil.''

Reganold's study adds to a small but growing body of evidence that organic
farming methods can boost agricultural output while reducing damage to the
environment, said Fred Kirschenmann, director of the Leopold Center for
Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.

``To me, it's not a big surprise,'' Kirschenmann said. ``It's being
corroborated in other parts of the world.''

Bill Wilcke, acting administrator of the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable
Agriculture, said the research shows the need to study other crops to see if
organic farming can be applied on a larger scale.

Different crops have different problems, he said. Wheat farmers, for
example, must till their soil more frequently if they choose organic pest
control over conventional spraying, and that raises concerns about soil

``They've done a good job of demonstrating they were able to get better
environmental benefits and better yields and fruit quality,'' Wilcke said.

Bob Stebbins, who heads an association of Oregon orchard growers, said the
study may be too specific to draw general conclusions about organic farming.

Eastern Washington is especially good for apple orchards because the climate
is dry, eliminating many apple pests and plant diseases, and there is plenty
of Columbia River irrigation water to keep soil fertile.

``It shows you can grow organic apples very well in eastern Washington,''
Stebbins said. ``It may not apply to other places.''

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