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What Exactly Is Organic? Part 1
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Before today’s topic a brief update is in order. Temperatures the night of April 3 fell well below freezing ranging from the low 20s to around 30 over the area for several hours. Spotty freeze damage has been noted already in South Central Kansas and more will likely become evident over the next little while, especially under warm windy conditions. Leaf burn won’t be a big deal but since wheat was jointing or jointed in much of the area, it will pay to keep an eye out for damage to the developing head inside the stem. Damage was noted earlier south of Wichita as wheat development was much further along.
One of the major trends in foods over the last decade is the organic food movement. From businesses like Whole Foods to large sections in the produce sections of food retailers like Dillon’s and Wal-Mart, it’s hard to miss the increasing prevalence of organic fruits and vegetables. Look in the meat section and you’ll find free range chickens and grass-fed beef.  You can purchase organic eggs, soy or almond milk and the list goes on.  
There is vigorous debate regarding what food are “safe”; whether or not organic foods are healthier; and the use of antibiotics and preservatives in foods. Social and conventional media are awash with arguments from all sides. In many ways this is as much a lifestyle and spiritual argument as it is based on health and science. The purpose here is simply to provide context for people to make informed decisions regarding their food purchases. The next few weeks will focus on this area and what the various terms mean. First it helps to provide a framework of what we are discussing. And the best place to start is by defining what organic means.
• Until the “organic” foods movement, organic had a much different meaning. For the hard sciences (chemistry and biology) organic simply meant carbon compounds. Life on earth is carbon based, i.e. carbon is the structural basis for living organisms. We are a carbon-based life form. And compounds such as fossil fuels (hydrocarbons) derived from living organisms are organic. When those working in agricultural and horticulture refer to organic matter in soils, they are referring to compounds derived from dead and decaying organisms. Naturally, there are many more elements contained in organic compounds than just carbon.
• The organic foods movement has a much different definition of organic. Here its meaning varies but overall it means the production of foodstuffs without the use of synthetic inputs. Those synthetic inputs include fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides. It doesn’t mean that these products aren’t used in producing food but that fertilizers and pesticides used are “natural.” The word natural is in quotation marks because there is debate in the organic foods community regarding how to define natural. This movement normally excludes antibiotics, genetically modified organisms, and in some cases specific animal rearing practices.  
Next week will focus more specifically on the difference between organic (natural) foods, traditional food production, and what “certified organic” means.