After reading Fateful Harvest: The True Story of a Small Town, a Global Industry, and a Toxic Secret, I have a strong fear of bags of soil. And fertilizer. Fateful Harvest was written by Duff Wilson, who was, at that time, an investigative journalist for the Seattle Times. His book is an expansion on an article he wrote for the Seattle Times in 1997. The investigative article was published in two parts by the Seattle Times on July 2, 1997 and July 3, 1997, titled Fear in the Fields. Duff Wilson was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his work on the article.
In his book, Wilson writes about a small town mayor in Quincy, Washington, who fights the practice of recycling industrial byproducts, such as cadmium, arsenic, and lead, by labeling it as fertilizer. Companies, instead of paying for hazardous waste disposal, can earn a profit by selling their toxic waste to farmers, to be used as fertilizer on agricultural fields. This is a frightening EPA loophole, designed to promote recycling.
Interestingly, Fateful Harvest is not a book that is referred to often in the food-centric social media that I follow. I’m not sure why. As far as I know, there is still no law requiring the labeling of fertilizers as being derived from toxic waste or labeling of contents in bags of soil, compost, or fertilizer.
Based on this knowledge, when it came to finding soil for my garden this year, I carefully read packages and did a little research. Two popular brands, Scott and MiracleGro, had “organic” soil, but I think it’s just a product name. I don’t think there is any regulation on using the term “organic” on soil or soil amendments.
Every time I went to Home Depot this spring I saw these bags of “organic” soil flying off the shelf; I couldn’t help but think that perhaps people are getting duped.
Eventually I did find bags of compost with a “certified for organic agriculture” seal on it from the Washington State Department of Agriculture. (The other “organic” soils had no certifications or seals.) The compost came from Cedar Grove composting, a local company that composts yard trimmings, wood, and food scraps from the Puget Sound region. Composting this waste (which is non-toxic!!) diverts it from the landfill and turns it into something useful, great for chemical-free gardening and landscaping, as nature intended.
Unfortunately, Cedar Grove does not sell top soil by the bag, only the compost. They sell top soil by the yard from their processing plant. Bags would be a bit more appropriate for a condo-dwelling urban gardener. For this year, I used the Cedar Grove compost to amend the potting soil I already had. My tomatoes are happy and thriving, despite the sun making its first appearance of the year in Seattle just this week.
So what is “organic” soil? I still don’t know. But I’m playing it safe by looking for products with a third party certification. Let me know if you have more insight . . . .