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When Organics Goes Bad

When Organics Goes Bad is a short video where Geoff Lawton visits an organic carrot farm in California and explains why some organic farms are not always good for the environment.

Whilst travelling with Warren Brush in his old pickup truck to his Quail Springs Permaculture Farm in the Cuyama Valley of California, we were struck to see that the surrounding valley river system was a dry degraded dust bowl. No water was flowing down the old stream path, although the bones of the river path were still evident but the once verdant forests which were now long gone.

Here in this very dry desert environment, it was hard to believe that once the steelhead salmon were in abundant supply. They were hunted by the Chumash Indians who lived in this part of the world. A functioning ecosystem was once a normal fact of life here, but now, none of this was visible to the eye. All of this was now erased from history. The only patch of green was a monoculture farm, where truckloads of compost provided by feedlot cattle were dumped regularly to make organic carrots. The cattle waste was transported to this patch of green in the desert by over 80 trucks producing 40 tons of carrots to the acre. The water to irrigate this carrot farm is slowly depleting the aquifer as it is continually being pumped lower and lower and is not being renewed. The end effect of all this activity is a layer of salt silting the entire valley, rendering it useless for future farming.

Geoff Lawton got out of the truck and surveyed the scene in despair.

Watch this short 3-minute video as Geoff Lawton explains why sometimes, going organic is not sustainable or even good for the environment.


The Permaculture Research Insitute

PRI Zaytuna Farm functions as a model farm (in development) and permaculture training facility. Geoff and Nadia Lawton, world-renowned permaculture educators and consultants, lead the project. Much of Geoff and Nadia’s time over the last few years has been spent away from the Institute, consulting and helping set up projects in diverse locales around the world. Seeing the worldwide demand for knowledgeable permaculture consultants and teachers increase exponentially, as fuel and fertiliser prices skyrocket and the effects of climate change, soil depletion and water shortages begin to hit hard, priority and focus is now shifting back to the Institute, where growing the training program will increase the output of quality teachers to help fill the growing need for them.


  1. Tough words, but absolutely true. Geoff tells it like it is. As for the owners of this farm, I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes after this video…

  2. Unfortunately this is not the lone example of this practice nor is organic or conventional farming the only culprit.

    Due to lack of good local examples and a precedent set by an influential person, I’ve seen people calling very extractive, input-intensive gardens in the Sonoran desert “permaculture”. And while I definitely understand that permaculture is a learning process, this mindset of planting food crops without taking into consideration that one is importing vast amounts of water, compost, etc. has the potential to be as damaging to the environment as the farm in this video.

    And yes – we’re working on turning this around and making people aware of their resource use and offering alternatives. I especially want to thank Geoff, Frank and Brad for the video on the swales in the Sonoran desert.

  3. What’s the difference between a 300 acre field of organic wheat and a 300 acre field of chemical wheat? Only the chemicals which is no small difference. Nonetheless, corganic aka corporate organic will start to increase market share, perhaps even dominate, as the demand for organic food continues to increase. At an annual growth rate of 20% since 1990, production will shift to meet demand. Walmart’s decision to expand its organic offering will accelerate corganic production growth assuming they don’t source product in China.

    Loved the music, Geoff. You gonna start doing spaghetti Westerns?????

    1. Yes Wadi Rum is very diverse with more than 50% of the system in perennial trees increasing shade, buffering winds, and creating organic matter as many of the trees are mulch producing legume support species, this reduces evaporation. Plus irrigated trellised swales planted and shaded by fruit trees with less than 50% area in mixed crops.
      Not just large areas of just carrots.

  4. Geoff the steelhead is a trout not a salmon. It is a rainbow trout that migrates to the sea and then returns to it’s native river to spawn until it dies. They can make several spawning runs in their life time as does the Atlantic Salmon. And a good friend of mine is a Chumash Indian. Her name is Pink Cloud Ortega. She loves to come over to my place to learn and see what I’m doing in my garden and food forest. I’m constantly teaching her about the things I learn from your site and from other regenerative agriculture sites.

  5. Geoff,

    Is it possible to grow carrots on the scale of this field in a regenerative, soil improving way? What would you do to change how this field is managed?


    1. No this is out of scale, you need to re-pattern on contour with elements of positive inter-active diversity and in this climate the shading and wind breaking play a large part in reducing evaporation.

  6. Geoff,

    Since pictures often trump words, could you quickly scratch out a drawing of what this field might look like to reflect what you’re saying about shading, wind-breaks, and diversity?

    Thank you.


  7. Brilliant, Geoff. Thank you. On first blush, it looks like land would be “lost” to the wind/shade barriers. Certainly carrot yields would drop but depending on what could be planted in the tree corridors, overall yield might not. Adding perennial pollen and nectar sources might offer opportunities for beekeepers. Leasing space to beekeepers would provide gross cash flow equal to net cash flow.

    It’s all in the design, ain’t it. ;)

  8. Just the opening shots of the waterpipeline made me feel sick. To advertise this bodge-monoculture as organic farming is just bad/false press for the enemies of permaculture. Please rename the video.

  9. This is exactly the reason why Im so into the idea of farming. We’ve been following Jeff for the past couple of weeks and I am thrilled with what we’ve learned. Ive started incorporating his ‘chop and drop’ method and I’ve learned personally what composting this way does for the soil and the plants. This winter, I started throwing food scraps straight in the garden. We’ll see if thats a good idea or a bad idea when spring arrives :D I absolutely love the idea of more and more smaller, local farms with a great amount of diversity. Id love to take our business in this direction. Even with one small acre, i think we can do it.

  10. Of all of your video’s Geoff, this is the only one that bothers me. It’s not that I don’t agree that this sort of farming is unsustainable and wrong… it’s not that at all. I guess it’s just very bothersome to me that there is a loophole big enough in the organic certification process to allow a farm of this nature be labelled organic. Something is wrong with the certification process. While I Agree nearly 100% with the content of this video to not bring up the fundamental flaw I mentioned in the Cert process, your title potentially gives the uninitiated the idea about organics without spending even a minute of your video on solutions. The issue here is that conventional industrial farming practices have no place in a sustainable world no matter what label is on it.

    1. @Rob Mercereau, Follow the money. As the “certified organic” market place get bigger and bigger, it will increasingly attract industrial agriculture and other corporate players. Organic will slowly become corganic – corporate organic. In the corporate world, it’s about the bottom line and nothing else. For example Kellogg’s opposes GMO package labelling ( ) and yet its Kashi brand increasingly is making non-GMO a key part of their branding –

      To avoid the kind of thing happening in Geoff’s video, buy local organic and watch to see how the organic regulations are changing.

  11. This video is very good but I think it really would benefit from a tiny bit more putting it into perspective that would end with hope and a promotion of the idea of permaculture for all the people who’ve never heard of it. Out of context this just seems random to put down organic agriculture. Just another 30 seconds that shows something like “well sure its a tiny bit better than conventional agriculture (clip of cropduster flying over spraying pesticides) but there is a much better way, and then video panning over a food forest where Geoff picks a carrot out of a polyculture. and of course, takes a bite out of it… Then ends with a link to come to this website for more info…. Just a suggestion because you are trying to work out how to reach a tipping point and reach out to the masses who are not already familiar with the idea of permaculture.

  12. Thank you for the link. It is a great article and I agree with it 100%. My previous comment was intended as a suggestion for how to add something at the end of this video in order to make it a better tool for reaching the “tipping point” as Geoff mentioned in his TedX talk and recent Facebook post that he is trying more than ever to reach out to a broader audience. I meant to convey by an example, an idea to bring this video to a conclusion which introduces permaculture as an alternative. Most of us who already know that, are already in this movement, and the intention is to reach more broadly.

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