The topic of discussion this past week in ENVS 160 was sustainability and its position as a “big word” in the world of environmental studies. In doing the weekly readings, one of the papers struck me, and I would like to spend more time on it here. The article in question was “Strawberry Fields Forever? When Soil Muddies Sustainability” by Julie Guthman, 2018. Two things in this paper really caught my attention, both which relate to my niche interest in aquaponics; first being whether or not foods grown without soil should be able to be classified as “organic”, and the subject of the ever switching importance of the “Quality” of the product versus its impact on the environment.
Now I don’t want to go and dunk on this article, because it’s useful and well-written and makes some excellent points. However, I disagree with the author’s opinion that soilless agriculture should automatically be illegible for the label of “organic.” The common definition of organic food is food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, which is the case for many soilless systems. I would argue that aquaponics could be seen as more “organic” than traditional growing, as this paper lays out all the complicated and expensive ways farmers try to game nature into bigger harvests and more extended soil longevity. There comes the point at which an area of land has been continuously farmed for so long where the original microfauna of the soil- much of which we don’t fully understand- cannot be restored. This process happens over and over again, and yet we continue to focus on how to do the impossible, for real estate reasons.
There is a second mention of soilless agriculture, albeit brief, which references attempts made by farmers to move to hydroponics, but was quickly abandoned due to compromises in sweetness and texture.
I find it hilarious that no one is willing to compromise on the quality of strawberries to do less damage to the environment, but everyone was okay with seedless watermelon. When we started growing seedless watermelon, there were stark differences in taste, texture, and sweetness from the seeded variety, and yet everyone was able to overlook this fact because you didn’t have to spit out the seeds anymore. The same thing happened to bananas! We created a monoculture that was susceptible to disease, and when the banana plague took place, we had to switch to different bananas. And we were okay with that also because we must hate seeds.
What I’m trying to say is, soilless farming is the future, and apparently, people don’t care that much about fruit quality, or at least not as much as we hate seeds.