We use the term organic in diverse contexts. We might be talking about carbon chemistry, particularly the chemistry of life, or in the sense of organ-ic, referring to organ systems or organisms, or to specific farming practices and its produce. Let’s look at each in turn and see if there’s a common thread...
The chemistry of life
All life forms are based on organic compounds; that is compounds containing carbon. What’s so special about carbon is its ability to hook up with other carbon atoms in long complex chains, leading to the formation of, literally, millions of distinct organic compounds. Put another way, carbon’s amazing ability to form meaningful connections lies at the heart of life – that is of you and me, and all the plants and animals we share this planet with.
The cells of our bodies are organised into tissues, which in turn cooperate in highly complex ways to form organs which carry out specific vital functions. The heart pumps our blood, the liver helps cleanse it, the lungs help oxygenate it. It’s not just animals; plants too have organs – leaves, flowers, roots and stems all carry out specific functions. In fact, an organ-ism – you or me or a tree - is in essence a collection of organs. But this is no random mix; it’s an interdependent, integrated system. Affect one part and the others sense and respond. If the effect is particularly toxic or chronic all parts (organs) may suffer or ultimately fail, resulting in death.
Organic agriculture is in effect a systems approach that aims for environmentally, socially and economically sustainable production. For example, instead of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, it uses crop rotation, animal and plant manures, hand weeding and biological pest control. The aim is to work with nature, rather than against it. Organic agriculture appreciates that our wider environment is an intricate, interconnected whole. Damage one part, and another suffers – sound familiar?
The common thread
So we see that organic is simply our true nature – one of cooperation and balance. Ultimately, to go against it is not to conquer nature, but to defeat ourselves.
Dr. Chris Murphy, research scientist and co-founder of Sleep Organic