A thought

conventional food. organic food.
proprietary software. free and open source software.
Actually I think it’s harder to make an argument for organic food than it is for free & open source software since the latter is most likely to be less costly. (I’m sure the analogy has been made before but I thought it was interesting)


  1. Anonymous says:

    Mozilla has the same idea
    Mozilla seems to be thinking the same thing. See <a href="http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/organic/” target=”_blank”>http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/organic/

    1. Re: Mozilla has the same idea
      yeah i figured it wasn't a new thought but it was the first time the analogy dawned on me 🙂
      "organic software" – seems kind of confusing. i mean i guess you could sort of relate the community to an organism or network of organisms but then the analogy breaks when you relate to proprietary software, no? (open source software is written by a network of clean organisms living off of nature. proprietary software is written by a network of organisms jacked up on chemicals !!?? hehe)

  2. Anonymous says:

    I don't understand
    Hello, I really don't see the connection. Appart that both are supposed to be better for you.. But for entirely different reasons.

    1. Re: I don't understand
      I was thinking it was more the culture behind each. A lot of big money backs conventional foods (Kraft, Inc., etc) and a lot of big money backs proprietary software (Microsfot, etc) and I think the organic food movement and the free & open source software movements were started and grown by communities, not large $$ organizations.
      Does that make more sense?

  3. Is this a good thing in general play with such far-fetched analogies?
    You know, both Lincoln and Bush fought wars that took much longer than they planned, on the background of domestic disapproval, and went through a bunch of generals who were unable to clinch the deal until they lucked on a commander who had just the right mindset to bring the decisive victory about. The parallel is striking! Lincoln was a great president. Bush…?
    BTW, organic food is mostly a fraud. It's not any better to you, and it carries a host of unpleasant secondary effects on ecology and economy. If Free Software is seen analogous to organic food, we've got a big problem.

    1. I have to respectfully disagree with you on organic food's benefits.

      1. I don't know about benefits but I remember years ago when my parents used to grow tomatoes (and some other vegetables) in their backyard (organic, right?) they were really tasty… I don't think I ever had better tomatoes…
        But, boy, it was a lot of work for that! I won't do that myself (but that's me, I don't find gardening a pleasure, I prefer spending my time at the computer).
        I think you can see Free Software in which you can be directly involved somehow like the vegetables you grow yourself, some benefits but also some downsides.

      2. I think I disagree.
        Just to add my two cents to this thread, I think that organic food is more like a "market protection" to traditional farmers then anything else. The whole "it's better for you" sound to me more like a marketing campaign then anything else.
        But I got to this opinion after reading in several places what I already thought to be most likely, that organic food is mostly the same. There are some differences, as far as I read, basically that organic tend to have more flavonoids, but those are defensive mechanisms that show that the plants are in fact not healthier.
        To read about it a good article from the independent is here.
        But, on the other hand there is no harm in promoting and protecting those that do agriculture in the traditional ways, I just think that should be less "pushing the truth" involved, but I surely thing that there should be less wars and poverty in the world…

        1. Re: I think I disagree.
          I don't buy organic foods when I can for 'health benefits'
          I buy them because they are more sustainable, because it's better for the land. I would rather support farmers who use more responsible practices than those who do not. I actually gave up eating meat too in part because of the cruel practices that many conventional meat producers use to produce it.
          I know that some people are under the impression that their only benefit is that they are healthier, but there really are more benefits to them than that even if you disagree with that benefit.

          1. Anonymous says:

            Re: I think I disagree.
            I liked the organic small farm produce primarily because I can get a larger range of interesting shades of purple produce.
            In jersey, it was purple beans, beans, bell peppers and a whole cadre of different eggplant shades.
            Here in Alaska, its purple potatos. They call them blue…but they are purple.
            -jef"more purple!"spaleta

          2. Re: I think I disagree.
            Even those are questionable, the problem here is volume, we have a huge number of people in the world to feed, traditional farming does not have this capability. The article I linked before does casts some doubts about the impact of the organic farming. I believe that so far those impacts are not bad simply because organic food is a niche food market so it has to deal with much lower numbers.

          3. Re: I think I disagree.
            Anything that minimizes the number of chemicals going into our soil is a good thing for everybody.

          4. Re: I think I disagree.
            I hope that you're not taking this the wrong way, I am not radically aggainst organic, in fact as I have said I think that it is a good thing in general. But… (there is aways a but :P)
            In the article I sent you they say the following :

            Food scares are always good news for the organic food industry. The Soil Association and other organic farming trade groups say conventional food must be unhealthy because farmers use pesticides. Actually, organic farmers also use pesticides. The difference is that "organic" pesticides are so dangerous that they have been "grandfathered" with current regulations and do not have to pass stringent modern safety tests.
            For example, organic farmers can treat fungal diseases with copper solutions. Unlike modern, biodegradable, pesticides copper stays toxic in the soil for ever. The organic insecticide rotenone (in derris) is highly neurotoxic to humans – exposure can cause Parkinson's disease. But none of these "natural" chemicals is a reason not to buy organic food; nor are the man-made chemicals used in conventional farming.

            This is a pet-pevee I have with the use of "natural" and "chemical", just because something comes from natural or it naturally appears in the environment does not mean it good or better then something that was made by humans. I can agree that the volumes of stuff we are producing is huge and almost any by product in those volues tent to be a problem, no matter how safe and tested they were.
            My point is there has been many researches on the impact and, at least on countries that have a strong environmental law, those researches are (hopefully) taken seriously. I don't believe in "organic food" as solution, simply because it don't scale to the numbers we need, I just think that there are better solutions to many of the problems we are facing.

          5. Re: I think I disagree.
            You are focusing in on the chemicals/pesticides when there are a lot of other things that differentiate organic and conventional farming practices. And actually, there are quite a few organic farmers who use neither chemicals or other pesticides. They use natural insect predators like ladybugs to get rid of pests that blight their crops. Instead of dumping chemicals into the same plots of soil year after year they use natural ways of fertilizing and maintaining the soil such as crop rotation and composting.
            For example, see <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/chengdu/2008/04/last_week_melissa_block_and.html” target=”_blank”>http://www.npr.org/blogs/chengdu/2008/04/last_week_melissa_block_and.html
            I believe it dispels some of the myths about the scalability of organic farming you have been bringing up as well.

    2. Anonymous says:

      Well, don't know that the unpleasant effects on ecology and economy are you refer to. Probably you want to say, that for most organic food high quality more is a wish than reality, because the producers of that food are clueless dogmatist: Just saying that the agrarian research of the last 200 years was nonsense just is — nonsense.
      Well, but fortunately this entire organic food hype really had some good side effects for non-dogmatic consumers: For instance we got those Eco regulations in the EU which give a clear checklist what makes up organic food. The official seal associated with that checklist seems to be quite attractive, so in my perception many of the huge farmers tweaked their production methods to comply with that checklist: At least in my favorite mainstream super market more and more food is wearing that seal.
      So hopefully the result is high quality food produced by clueful people. Those people also are big enough to practice quality management, instead of just claiming better quality. Well, and this all at reasonable prices.
      Still this analogy is really far fetched, or as we say in German: "Nicht alles was hinkt ist ein Vergleich".

    3. Anonymous says:

      A fraud?
      Like the acids in drinking water and things it kills is a fraud?

  4. I like the idea of handmade software better. I think of handmade lovingly hand-made wooden toys versus Mattel/Disney poisonous plastic crap.
    Hey, look who's on the board of Disney.

  5. the analogy works for less costly, too
    Organic (and sustainably) farmed food is less expensive to produce than factory farming if you factor in the diminishing returns from the land as you continually destroy it with conventional farming techniques.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I think the same
    I'm using open source software and organic food exclusively so I think both philosophies intertwine quite well!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Free software wouldn't leave millions of people starving
    You know, only using organic food would leave millions (maybe [US] billions) people starving and maybe dying? There just is no way to feed 6*10^9 people without so called conventional food production.

    1. Re: Free software wouldn't leave millions of people starving
      You know, using only convential farming methods means that in our children's or our children's lifetimes, we won't be able to produce any food for anyone no matter how many chemicals we pump into the soil and spray on the plants.
      That's why oragnic farming is also referred to as 'sustainable' agriculture. Because conventional methods are not sustainable over the long term, the same as our usage of fossil fuels.

      1. Re: Free software wouldn't leave millions of people starving
        um a lot of typos but i think you get the gist
        (s/children's or children's/childrens' or grandchildrens')

      2. Anonymous says:

        Re: Free software wouldn't leave millions of people starving
        Depends on your definition of conventional (and sustainable) farming. I fully agree that cutting down rain forests to get fields that will be good for just a few harvests is not sustainable.
        But please keep in mind that in the not too distant future there will be 9*10^9 people. If we want to feed all of us, we will need all the tools we have at our disposition. And this includes GMO even if HRH Prince Charles disagrees.
        Pure organic farming is a luxury that only the rich can afford.

        1. Re: Free software wouldn't leave millions of people starving
          I'm not even talking about cutting down rainforests. You know that all the chemicals in the fertilizers erode the soil and also pollute our drinking water, right? Soil is in a way a living organism, and fertilizers and chemicals kill it. If we don't have good soil we won't be able to farm with or without chemicals.
          Ever consider that 9*10^9 people on the planet might not be sustainable either?

          1. Anonymous says:

            Re: Free software wouldn't leave millions of people starving
            > Ever consider that 9*10^9 people on the planet might not be sustainable either?
            Maybe, but we have to try. What else can we do? I hope you don't suggest nuking half the world to get back to sustainable population levels.

          2. Re: Free software wouldn't leave millions of people starving
            When did I ever say anything about nuking anybody? Wow!
            Please stop putting words into my mouth! You really have a problem with jumping to conclusions and making assumptions.

          3. Anonymous says:

            Re: Free software wouldn't leave millions of people starving
            Sorry if you understood it this way. It was a sarcastic comment on your claim that 9 billion people on earth are not sustainable. Since we will reach this number in the not to distant future I see basically two choices:
            cope with it and try to make it sustainable by any means at our disposition. This includes food and energy production in ways that are not ideologically pure (to get at least closer to the original topic)
            get the 9 billion number down to something sustainable
            I never ever thought that you advocate 2). My comment was intended to show me a possible 3).
            Once again: I did not intend to insult you. Please accept my apology if I did.
            I replied to your original blog post because I get exasperated when people have good intentions (oganic food) and fail to see the consequences (less food at a time when we will need more). As the saying goes "The road to hell is paved with good intentions".

          4. Re: Free software wouldn't leave millions of people starving
            You think my beefs with conventional farming are ideological? When did I say that? I said, I have a problem with conventional farming because it is NOT sustainable. Why bother with a practice that lets you feed 9 billion people when it will only work for a few years before it depletes the ability of the land to sustain any growth at all?
            I am not sure the 9 billion number is sustainable. When we reach 9 billion, what are we projected to reach 10 years after that? 10 years after that? What about when the population is projected to reach 9 trillion, if we even survive that far? Can the planet sustain infinite population in the long term? No. way. So don't you think your insistence that sustaining a population of 9 billion being the only way forward is a little short-sighted?
            I have heard statistics that many countries' populations are shrinking naturally. So I wonder why those that are growing are growing. Don't read me wrong as I know you will. I am saying, there are countries whose populations are not growing, but are holding steady or even shrinking and this IS NOT because of laws instituting that people must only have x children or more insidious controls.
            I did not write this very short and limited-scope blog post to solve the problem of our planet sustaining a population of 9 billion people living on the planet. I'm sorry. Please take your agenda elsewhere as it's got nothing to do with this blog post.

          5. Re: Free software wouldn't leave millions of people starving
            Wait, modern farming makes the land useless for growth after a few years? Can you really say that with a straight face? You think that the midwest farmland gets used for a few years, and then abandoned? Where did you get such data? Please source such a ludicrous claim.

          6. Re: Free software wouldn't leave millions of people starving
            Sure, Mr. "Woo". I'll grudgingly back my "ludicrous claim" to you, because you apparently have nothing better to do with your time than beat a poor bloodied horse carcass into a liquid pulp:
            – "Influence of Tillage on Nitrate Loss in Surface Runoff and Tile Drainage" from the Soil Science Society Journal of America, published 1993. Their findings indicated that conventional tilling practices (CT) resulted in greater losses of nitrates from the soil than organic tilling practices (NT & RT). In case you didn't know, nitrates are essential for plant growth. <a href="http://(http://soil.scijournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/57/3/797)” target=”_blank”>(http://soil.scijournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/57/3/797)
            – "Influence of alternative and conventional farming practices on subsurface drainage and water quality." from the Journal of Environmental Quality, published 1997. Their findings indicated that "alternative farming practices have the potential to reduce agricultural impacts on water quality." (In case you didn't know, water is essential for plant growth.)
            – "Long-term effects of organic and conventional farming on soil erosion" published in Nature, 1987. "This study indicates that, in the long term, the organic farming system was more effective than the conventional farming system in reducing soil erosion and, therefore, in maintaining soil productivity." <a href="http://(http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v330/n6146/abs/330370a0.html)” target=”_blank”>(http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v330/n6146/abs/330370a0.html)
            – "Comparison of soil properties as influenced by organic and conventional farming systems" published in American journal of alternative agriculture, 1988. "These studies indicate that, in the long-term, the organic farming system was more effective than the conventional farming system in maintaining the tilth and productivity of the Naff soil and in reducing its loss to erosion"
            – "Arbuscular mycorrhizae in a long-term field trial comparing low-input (organic, biological) and high-input (conventional) farming systems in a crop rotation" published in Biology and fertility of soils, 2000. "We found the percentage of root length colonized by AM fungi to be 30-60% higher (P≤0.05) in the plants grown in soils from the low-input farming systems than in those grown in conventionally farmed soils"
            – "Sustainability of three apple production systems." published in Nature, 2001. "Our data indicate that the organic system ranked first in environmental and economic sustainability, the integrated system second and the conventional system last."
            – "Environmental, Energetic, and Economic Comparisons of Organic and Conventional Farming Systems" published in BioScience, 2005. "Conventional agriculture can be made more sustainable and ecologically sound by adopting some traditional organic farming technologies."
            – "Evaluation of sustainability of organic, integrated and conventional farming systems: a farm and field-scale analysis " published in Agriculture, Ecosystems, & Environment, 2003. "The OFSs perform better than IFSs and CFSs with respect to nitrogen losses, pesticide risk, herbaceous plant biodiversity and most of the other environmental indicators." (Where OF is organic farm, IF is integrated farm, CF conventional farm)
            – "Soil Fertility and Biodiversity in Organic Farming" published in Science, 2002. "Enhanced soil fertility and higher biodiversity found in organic plots may render these systems less dependent on external inputs. "
            Seriously, Mr. Woo? I'm getting bored. Why don't you just fucking google it yourself? Unless you don't want to stop smoking from your self-righteous, know-it-all crackpipe.

        2. Anonymous says:

          Re: Free software wouldn't leave millions of people starving
          GMO won't help making the poor get food, stop spreading this lie, GMO is purely a cash cow for biotech firms. Ever heard of a real success of GMO in feeding the poor, think golden rice, etc. all failed to deliver on their promises but recently even the biotech firms warned that GMO is not the messiah for feeding the poor, so think again. But I won't start a new deabate about GMOs here as smart breeding is outperforming it already but some people will still believe the $$$-firms…

          1. Re: Free software wouldn't leave millions of people starving
            GMO actually hurt poor farmers. There's been an epidemic of poor farmers committed suicide in India because of GMO seeds, see <a href="http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/rough/2005/07/seeds_of_suicid.html” target=”_blank”>http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/rough/2005/07/seeds_of_suicid.html

    2. Re: Free software wouldn't leave millions of people starving
      also i recommend the book 'the end of food' to you

  8. Wow. This topic blew up. 🙂
    I think it's actually a question of "sustainable" versus "unsustainable".

  9. Anonymous says:

    Similar thought
    capitalism. socialism.
    propeitary software. FOSS

  10. Anonymous says:

    I like the analogy
    I think the analogy is good, although perhaps not as direct as people often would like analogies to be. Both organic farming and free software development tend to create healthy ecosystems of their own kind that are good for the people and the earth. People involved in these two also often tend to think about the wider impact of their actions. The conventional food producers and proprietary software companies mostly don't care about ecosystems of any kind and don't want you to care about them either. The scope of their interest is limited to their bottom line – regardless what their marketing department might be telling you. (Of course many are in the organic business purely for the money too).
    It's ironic, that those here who think negatively of organic food production, resemble closely those who believe that proprietary software development is the only way to produce quality software and free software is inferior in quality and just generally dubious. This is a very un-geeky way of thinking. Powerful companies have a lot in stake in conventional farming and food production. They have the money and they are well connected to different governments, organizations, research institutions and media – and they use these connections to their benefit (where have I heard this before?). We know one doesn't get a balanced picture of free software from the mainstream media. It's the same with organic farming and food production. You have to dig deeper. Is organic food production perfect? No, like free software, it isn't. Can you easily make a compelling case against organic farming for a layman? As against free software, you can. Unfortunately the world of food production is very similar to the world of software: there's lying, corruption, bought studies, misleading marketing – what ever can be used to hurt those that stand in the way of the business. Advanced organic farming gives good yields, produces food with better nutritional content and is sustainable. Conventional farming is heavily dependent on harmful pesticides, spoils ground waters around the world and impoverishes the soil.
    Sometimes a good piece of information finds it way even to mainstream media: <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/tyne/7067226.stm” target=”_blank”>http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/tyne/7067226.stm
    A lot more on the subject can be found by searching the web. Be open and critical.

    1. Re: I like the analogy
      Thank you. I'm really saddened that your comment seems to be in the minority. Heaven help me if I ever need to survive outside of the northeastern US, I don't think I'd make it very long. 🙁

  11. Science :: Woo
    Modern Farming :: Organic Farming
    Modern Medicine :: Homeopathy (Homeopathy is even a part of organic farming)
    I don't see the opposition to chemicals. A chemical isn't bad, a chemical isn't good. There is some form of woo that says chemicals come from corporations and are therefore bad. (along with the assumption that corporations are bad).
    Farming is a science. Plant nutrition is part of that. Replenishing the soil with the vitamins and minerals is necessary in all forms of farming, modern farming just brought it down to a science, targeting the exact nutrients and minerals necessary.

    1. I don't really know what you are referring to by "woo"
      I am not saying all chemicals are bad. I am saying many of the chemicals typically used in conventional farming practices that erode the soil are.
      Just keep on believing what you believe in. Good luck.

      1. http://www.skepdic.com/woowoo.html
        Woo-woo (or just plain woo) refers to ideas considered irrational or based on extremely flimsy evidence or that appeal to mysterious occult forces or powers.
        Here's a dictionary definition of woo-woo:
        adj. concerned with emotions, mysticism, or spiritualism; other than rational or scientific; mysterious; new agey. Also n., a person who has mystical or new age beliefs.
        And also: <a href="http://www.skepdic.com/organic.html” target=”_blank”>http://www.skepdic.com/organic.html

        1. Oh that skepdic.com, such the authority! I can't believe I didn't trust them as my first source of information on organic farming! How silly of me!
          Well, drat. First area 51, now organic farming. Great. I suppose I'll start hunting down big foot now. I hear they recently found a REAL sasquatch body!
          (btw. grow up.)

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