Home ยป Eliot Coleman Keynote | Real Organic Project Symposium

This is Eliot Coleman coming to you from Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine. I was given good advice many years ago about what to do if I was the final speaker at a day-long conference. I was told to begin with a few humorous anecdotes, make one last salient point about the issue, tell a final joke, and get off the stage – and that’s just what I’m going to do.

My opening attempt at wit starts with a few quotes I collected while thinking about this talk. The first quote is from scientist William Albrecht who wrote eloquently about how his research had taught him the importance of real soil fertility for the proper nourishment of human beings. He expressed the idea in just five words at a talk he gave back in 1944.”Food is fabricated soil fertility.” Clear, concise, accurate.


I don’t believe it would have had the same toothsome ring if he had said “Food is fabricated chemical slush”.

I’m very fond of the following statement which as far as I know is an unattributed quote: “Human civilization owes its existence to six inches of soil and the fact that it rains.” Pretty clear.

It does not say “Human civilization owes its existence to complicated technological gimmickry that produces food-like substances”.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the photo taken from lunar orbit of the earth in 1968 and titled ‘Earth Rise’. That photo inspired the concept of Spaceship Earth. A wise commentator has suggested that when you are seated comfortably on Spaceship Earth following a delicious meal, you should notice that the sign on the back of the seat in front of you says, quote “The life preserver is under your feet.”

In other words, the sign doesn’t say “The life-preserver is a series of styrofoam trays floating on a nutrient broth.”

And finally, the astrobiologist Dr. David Grinspoon, in his book ‘Earth in Human Hands’, wrote “Understanding some small part of nature, learning to hear its music, and singing along” – he did not suggest hitting the mute button and bringing out the Moog synthesizer.

The USDA National Organic Program and its embrace of hydroponics is an attack upon all of us old organic hippies who successfully defied the arrogant, know-it-all attitude of industrial agriculture. <

We took on the USDA and kicked their butt, by growing spectacular crops without toxic chemicals. In the process, we undermined their hegemony and Organic gained the trust of the food-buying public. Today’s USDA is now trying to get even.

By certifying hydro as Organic, it is basically saying “See, we were right all along. Soil is not important, we can do it all with soluble fertilizers as we have always claimed. Even organic farming and now agrees.”

We cannot allow the public understanding of the true potential of organic farming to be confused by association with an input-dependent, energy-intensive, sterile system of plastic troughs and pumps and filters and controllers and conditioners and test tube nutrient solutions, that bears no relation to actual soil fertility.

In a world of diminishing resources, Real Organic Farming is the only sustainable solution for feeding the world.

Real Organic Farming does not need inputs, because biological soil fertility is powered by crop rotations and green manures and cover crops and farm-derived compost and grazing livestock and deep-rooted legumes and other time-honored management practices that nurture the boundless energy and logic of the earth.

Real Organic Farming is a circle of endless renewal and it can succeed wherever there is soil.

Real Organic Farming can provide mankind with exceptional food in perpetuity. Well, you’ve heard that message many times today.

All of us involved with the Real Organic Project are expending every effort to defend the original meaning of our organic farming against these white-collar crooks. But we’re up against enormous economic resources and powerful political connections.

The odds are against us, but what are we going to do if we fail? We may need a new word.

So, to end the day on a note of humor, I offer the following story: A few years ago, my wife Barbara and I and another good friend of the movement, were sitting around drinking beer and wondering what new word we could come up with to replace Organic if we lost this battle.

We all felt the new word should incorporate an ecological and sustainable and biological understanding, but it needed to be short, exciting and catch people’s attention.

Eventually, we focused on the name Biological Agriculture, shortened it to Bio-ag and then in a flash of beer-fueled brilliance we had it. Bio-ag became bi-ag-ra. Biagra!

The perfect slogans came to mind immediately: “Put the organ back in organic – a new high in sustainability”. If we do lose this present battle, I offer that story to inspire the new movement. Thank you very much.