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“Organic” Plant Nurseries…Real or Imagined

In the interest of full disclosure, our nursery has a vested interest in standing apart from other, so called, organic nurseries. So, we do benefit from the following essay. That said….


Let’s assume you want to buy an organic tree, or bush, or whatever. For example, we’ll pick “organic fruit tree”. These days most of us go to the computer and type in something logical, like say, “organic fruit tree”. That makes sense, right ? The results come in and you begin clicking. The average person makes a few more clicks, and now they have ordered an organic tree…right ?  Well, maybe not. We have been doing some testing on the subject. It turns out that most sites have, in fact,  very little organic stock. Actually, the first sites that come up in a search offer NONE. How is this possible? Sure, some of it has to do with the mysteries of internet algorithms, but most is a little more crafty than that. I am going to avoid calls from legal departments by excluding names, but try it yourself. What you will find is that most sites use the word organic in their tags, site name, address, etc, and sometimes will instruct you “how to grow organically”. The plants they then go on to sell are conventional. It is called “bait and switch”, and it is sleazy to say the least. Some sites are better, and offer organic plants, but alongside conventional plants. The problem with the latter is more often than not easy to get confused between the two. One site had mostly organic, one had only organic (yes that is us..Walden Heights), and the rest had MOSTLY conventional.


What does this mean? Well, for some business owners, they are trying to make a living, and they do not have enough organic stock to make ends meet. (I will add that most of these folks growing some organic plants are good people.) Understandable, kind of. So they buy in material to flesh things out. Understandable, maybe. But, wait, if the nursery owner believes in supporting organic practices, why are they supporting negligent growing practices? If they are cheating, why shouldn’t you, the customer, do the same and save a buck? Don’t we have a responsibility as nurserymen and women do put our money where our mouth is? For those other websites, the ones peddling conventional material with the backdrop of organic terminology and waxings of natural practices, I won’t even dignify with a comment.


Let’s look at the real issue. Companies today produce little of what they sell. That isn’t only bicycles and burgers, it is plants as well. Most nurseries are distributers, really. This describes most online nurseries. These businesses  buy stock from true growers, repackage and mark up, and then resell to you. This is how a good part of American business works now online. Some do no growing whatsoever. Many even have material drop shipped. Organic nurseries are even allowed this, with, get this, conventional stock. Despite the fact that a certified organic farm will loose said certification for 3 YEARS if it applies a prohibited substance to its fields. It is, weirdly, allowed to plunk conventionally grown stock in that ground, without reprisal of contamination, and call the plant organic after 1 YEAR in that ground. It is allowed as long as the grower claims he/she cannot find an organic source of that particular species or cultivar. (It is VERY easy to wiggle around this rule). This is also true for farms and orchardists. The driver, as usual, is money. If it is perceived too expensive, in price or practice, we are apparently allowed to alter our moral compass. Cheap is king, to businesses, and to customers in most cases. Since so few nurseries grow plants (the original legal distinction between nursery and garden center was growing), they are at the mercy of what a wholesaler has to offer.  So, what we are left with is very little in the way of truly organic plant material in the US. To find what is out there, and to find those farms that are trustworthy, is quite difficult.


Conclusion. IF it is important to you to support organic growing practices, then please be discerning.  If things look vague, make a phone call and talk to the owner. Better yet an email so you have proof of the conversation. Meet the grower if you can. If the company doesn’t grow plants, insist they only resell organic plants, grown organically from scratch. Insist upon certified organic stock, not promises. Buying from a grower does mean they will have experience to help you. Are they too big to personally correspond with you and give tips on how to grow organically, based on experience? Then pass. And never, ever support a company that appears to be using the word organic only as a means to increase market share. It is easy to get misled these days, and no one wants to be a chump.


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