I do not consider myself a die hard organic gardener. For example, I don't always buy organic produce in the store. Most flowers are not seriously affected by pests or disease, and the few that are (like roses) are difficult to grow commercially in this climate anyway. The end result is that I raise all the flowers for Good Scents, and the few vegetables I grow for myself organically. Mainly this is because I just don't like handling inorganic fertilizers and pesticides.
I'm on the board for Project Grow and in May 2010 I attended part of the County Farm garden kickoff. One of the gardeners asked if Project Grow could put something on their website about what pesticides are organic and which are not. Here are some ideas that were suggested at the meeting:
Most things that are organic will say 'organic' on the label. Things that are not organic will say nothing. For example, 'Pyola' an insecticide that containing pyrethrins plus canola oil to help it adhere to leaves says it is organic. The popular insecticide Sevin (or it's knockoff Eight) make no claims whatever.
Organic products are natural. Insecticides are based on plant products. Fertilizers are based on animal products like blood and manure. Some fertilizers are based on fossilized material like greensand. Inorganic fertilizers tend to say things like "active ingredient".
The most common soil amendment used locally is compost (The City of Ann Arbor sells compost by the bushel and yard) and others include animal manures and peat moss.
There are fine lines separating many of these things. Recently, the word 'Organic' was defined by the USDA and growers must now adhere to guidelines and follow rules and inspections before using it. Food guru Michael Pollan thinks local is more meaningful now than organic. For example, many small farmers cannot afford to spend the time and money involved in receiving organic certification but companies like Dean Foods can easily afford these things. A couple people mentioned that the frequent use of ChemLawn and other pesticides locally may mean that Ann Arbor compost is not as organic as we would like to believe.
While all these things are true, anything grown organically in Ann Arbor compost or antibiotic laden manures will contain fewer pesticide residues than inorganic produce. In addition, anything grown organically will not further contribute to pesticides and chemical fertilizer use.
Thanks again to the gardener at County Farm who brought this up!