Why may organic crops be less pretty?

Sometimes they are.

That's not bad, just different than today's norm. Yet, consider that before 1900 most of any fruit crop was consumed as juice and cider, healthy foods that could incorporate blemishes. Much of the rest was cut to remove "bad spots" before being canned, jammed or sauced.


We love our kid friends and the fresh perspective they provide. When Dakarione (at right, with Rylee) ran in and asked, "Can we have an apple?" in the fall of a year when our two trees were loaded with fruit as never before, we said, "Sure!" What we didn't expect was to find our friends then searching in the kitchen, calling, "So where are they?"
Then, what fun...
...to see them climb for apples!
Plus, a real revelation:
We didn't expect it: They distrusted these apples, scrubbing away at the totally untreated fruit more vigorously than they ever would a store-bought apple.

Sometimes they're beautiful

However, organic can be as perfect in appearance as anything available. It simply takes much more labor when chemicals incompatible with organic production are taken out of the equation. Farm Manager Roy Prentice at Michigan State University's Tollgate Farm showed our class on edible gardening his organic orchard pest control schedule, saying, "Organic doesn't mean no spraying. In fact I spray more often than if I used the non-organic pesticides. That's because things like soap and sulfur that I use don't have the long lasting effect." The key, he said, is scouting daily to catch pests before they can inflict much damage. That means anticipating the pests and dealing with them as they arrive, which they do in waves a savvy grower can predict.

This extra work means that picture perfect organic produce costs more. That may not be so in the future, if you and we keep buying organic.

The science sounded marvelous

When organo-phosphate chemicals such as DDT were first introduced to agriculture, they were miracle products, widely and gratefully received in a world where losses to pest damage were accelerating. Other technologies and research were left in the dust of the rush to develop more of the wondrous potions. Promising work with oil sprays and strategies such as monitoring to predict pest activity died on the vine.

Only after 20-odd years of DDT use when farm income was pushed into the red by the cost of applying chemicals (to control newly resistant pest populations that began increasing even more rapidly than before) did agricultural science resume looking for alternate techniques.

Unfortunately, most researchers and Agriculture Department programs focused on developing new classes of chemicals rather than considering wholly new ways or updating older ways. Why? Even mounting evidence of health risks couldn't negate the very powerful presence of and society's investment in the chemical industry.

Hope is less well funded

The independent scientists (such as Union of Concerned Scientists) and dedicated organic farmers (check for organizations in your area such as NOFA in the U.S. northeast) who did take a different approach have made a slower go of it. They were fewer in number and less well funded. Now that may change with buyer support -- organic sales! -- to fuel research efforts such as those funded by the Organic Farming Research Foundation and Organic Research Centre. Their dollars go into wholly new approaches plus new takes on old ways. For instance, where petroleum oil showed pest-control promise back in the early 1900's, now we have effective garlic oil insecticides and fungicides.