3) Organic agriculture is part of good prenatal care.
Women's bodies are the first environment. So says native American midwife, Katsi Cook. This simple truth became the starting point of my book Having Faith, which explores the intimate ecology of pregnancy. It was a project that I began during the first month of my pregnancy with the real-life Faith and finally finished a week before I gave birth to her younger brother. Those four years of research and writing can really be summed up in two simple sentences: If the world's environment is contaminated, so too is the ecosystem of a mother's body. If a mother's body is contaminated, so too is the child who inhabits it.
The placenta, which does such an admirable job at keeping bacteria and viruses out of the womb's watery habitat, is ill-equipped to serve as a barrier to toxic chemicals. Pesticides that are made up of smaller molecules are afforded free passage. They slip easily from the mother's bloodstream into the blood of the baby's umbilical cord. Pesticides made of bigger, heavier molecules are partly broken down by the placenta's enzymes before they pass through. But, ironically, this transformation sometimes renders them even more toxic.(3)
We have much to learn about the reproductive effects of pesticides in use today. In the meantime, organic farming—like sobriety, seatbelts, and not smoking—makes good prenatal sense.
4) Organic agriculture protects air and water.
Last year, I received a phone call from a reporter at my hometown newspaper. He asked me to comment on the news that herbicide drift had now made it all but impossible to grow grapes commercially in central Illinois.(4) In other words, in the place where I grew up, the wind itself now contains so much weed killer (2,4-D) that grape leaves curl up and die. Illinois's cherry trees are perishing for the same reason. Looking out at my son stacking blocks on our back deck, a spring breeze ruffling the blond feathers of his hair, I wondered what effect this pesticide-laden air was having on the children who were breathing it.
After I hung up, I thought about my pregnancy with my daughter Faith, the first five months of which were spent in downstate Illinois. While researching the drinking water data for the town in which I was living, I discovered that two herbicides—alachlor and atrazine— were routinely found in the tap water there. Neither had ever exceeded its legal maximum contaminant level. However, I was not entirely reassured. These limits were never set with human embryos and fetuses in mind.
Pesticides do not adhere to the fields in which there are sprayed. They evaporate and rise into the jetstream. They drift for miles in the wind. They fall in the rain. They are detectable in fog. They insinuate themselves into the crystalline structures of snowflakes. They follow storm run-off into gullies and streambeds. They descend through soil into groundwater.
Organic agriculture does not poison wells and reservoirs. It does not bring ruin to vineyards and orchards. It is respectful of snow, fog, wind, and rain—our life support system.