Precautionary Gardening Inspired by Silent Spring

Some of my neighbors have harvested more pounds of squash and pumpkin than I have because they chose stronger weapons to wield against the squash bugs.  Some have had an easier time of keeping worms off their leaf lettuce. Perhaps they had a more uniform crop in general because of the conventional products they use.
Photo courtesy Melissa Peplow

Our family has no regrets about using organic and sustainable growing methods this year with our open pollinated, heirloom seeds gifted from Sow True Seed. We've still had an abundant crop, with enough to share with neighbors and friends.  We enjoy the peace of mind that we did not use toxic pesticides or even synthetic fertilizers on the plants that would produce our food.

We're cautious gardeners because education from places like the Organic Growers School, research from places like the Rodale Institute, and reports like the State of the Evidence by the Breast Cancer Fund all give us pause about pesticides.  Many common pesticides are listed in State of the Evidence as endocrine-disrupting compounds.  It's noted that DDT, that mosquito spray banned in the United States since the 1970s, is still found in some form in the environment and human bodies today.

As this autumn marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring, it's astounding what we still haven't learned from this scientist who lost her life to breast cancer.  She acknowledged that some pesticides and other chemicals might be needed in limited amounts and times.  But she cautioned about being so reliant on our man-made chemicals that we would tip the delicate balance of life on this planet.  By now you've heard about superweeds and superbugs, haven't you?    

Carson wrote in Silent Spring: 
“As crude a weapon as the cave man's club, the chemical barrage has been hurled against the fabric of life - a fabric on the one hand delicate and destructible, on the other miraculously tough and resilient, and capable of striking back in unexpected ways. These extraordinary capacities of life have been ignored by the practitioners of chemical control who have brought to their task no 'high-minded orientation,' no humility before the vast forces with which they tamper.” 

Some people have spent the past five decades arguing that Carson was wrong or at least ignoring her warnings.  A moderate approach would seem to be not necessarily banning pesticides, but requiring that they pass rigorous, unbiased, long-term safety tests -- something the federal government does not ensure US citizens of today.  The Toxic Substances Control Act is a broken, outmoded, false assurance that needs to be updated with Senator Lautenberg's Safe Chemicals Act.   

Maybe the way we grow our little family garden doesn't really matter.  Then again, maybe it does.  Having seen and experienced too much heartache in my lifetime related to cancer and other diseases, I'm siding with precaution. Reading Silent Spring makes me wonder why enough concerned citizens haven't already demanded we test chemicals for long-term safety before they reach our gardens and homes.  You can learn more here about the Safe Chemicals Act and how to contact your Congressional candidates for their support.