However, he underlines repeatedly his belief that the best way forward would involve mandatory labeling for food grown hydroponically or in other new media.
“Consumers who are passionate about healthy soil, which of course is the central point of organic—healthy soil makes healthy plants make healthy people—they should be able to see which products are grown hydroponically versus which were grown in the dirt,” Mesh says. “I think if they’re going to have it, they should label it, recognizing that soil is such a healthy component of organic farming. There’s a core group of dirt-farmers who are very passionate about it and say that we’ve lost our way.”
The USDA has lost an enormous opportunity, he says, to determine who among organics buyers is buying for what reason.
“We could have found out if what hydroponic growers were saying was correct, that what people really care about is the lack of pesticides,” he says. “Consumers’ voices were very mixed. Both sides brought out their own consumer-survey data.
Mesh underlines that he does not advocate for truly hydroponic operations, but he is interested in remaining cautiously open to the possibility that technology might change organic growing in a way that keeps food and people healthy, though always clearly labeled. In a time of droughts across the west, he notes that container operations and greenhouse growers may have a point.
One of the few neutral voices in a very partisan debate, Mesh acknowledges that this is a time of rupture in the organic growing world. He says of the NOSB decision, “It was still a very divided vote—eight to seven. You can’t have more a fractured community than that.”