My argument, then, is not with those who think natural sources of plant nutrients are good but with those who are turning otherwise normal human beings into superstitious, frightened faddists who see a death's head in every ordinary grocery store cabbage. These faddists, in their terror of a mysterious "something" in chemical fertilizers, are spoiling the fun of gardening (and eating) for everyone. This cult holds that continued use of chemical fertilizers (or chemical insecticides and fungicides too, for that matter), particularly on edible plants, is dangerous and should be barred by law. It further holds that recommendations by recognized authorities for the use of such chemicals is an organized plot by commercial firms to profit from the poisoning of men, women, and children.
This cult further states that all needs of plants for elements essential to growth and life can be met from natural organic wastes without fortifying or supplementing such natural fertilizers with chemicals. Within this cult we find an amazing assortment of individuals. A few of them are outright liars. Some are self-seeking opportunists doing exactly what they accuse commercial fertilizer manufacturers of doing-profiting from the sale of a spurious product.
Most of them, however, seem to be decent, honest folk, self-deluded, but looking for right answers to life's problems, except that they are looking down the cellar steps instead of out the window. From various sources they have accumulated strange, unproved theories about the way plants grow, what they need and how these needs can be supplied. These theories are phrased in vague, pseudo-scientific language which does not follow ordinary principles of plant physiology.
WHAT IS ORGANIC?
My first difficulty in opposing these organocultists arises in trying to define what they mean by organic. To a chemist, any product is organic if it contains a carbon particle or radicle. This includes urea, which was originally discovered in urine, but was later produced synthetically. If urea is separated from urine it cannot be distinguished in any way from the same chemical produced synthetically. The organocultist, however, accepts urine but rejects urea because it is not a pure organic product.
Obviously, then, the organocultist does not use the word organic in its true scientific sense-that of chemical structure. Perhaps he insists that for a substance to be usable, it must exist in a living organism or have been derived from such an organism. Here I foresee even more difficulties. To illustrate, let us fertilize a pasture with purely chemical nitrogen, such as ammonium sulfate, then allow steers to feed on the grass and return their wastes to the soil. Does the nitrogen in these wastes become pure and organic? Does beef scrap from the meat of these cattle change from inorganic to organic form?