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From Dr. Stuart Hill.


Stuart is a longtime organic pioneer. He was one of the first academics to "cross the street" while teaching at McGill University to become involved with the organic movement. Some of his achievements are highlighted after his comments. These are a few of his thoughts on Hydroponics in organic.


Organic Certification must not be extended to hydroponic production for three reasons:


1.    HISTORICAL (& ETHICAL) – the origins of the term ‘organic food’ required that all terrestrial food-producing systems be based on the care of healthy, uncontaminated, living soils. This must be honored and not compromised. To dare to compromise this would be like trying to sell a print of an original painting as if it were the original, which it can never be.

2.    SCIENTIFIC – the field of soil ecology is now well established, and the complex connections between ‘soil health’ and ‘food quality’ are becoming increasingly clear. What is particularly clear is that: the bio-ecological and physio-chemical processes that occur in soil are far too complex to be able to be replicated or mimicked in techno-systems (such as hydroponics) – it is clearly best to leave the task of nurturing plants to the life in the soil – they do many beneficial things that we are yet to fully understand (so their activities cannot be replicated in hydroponics) – and they do it much more economically than we could ever do it without them. Hydroponics may therefore be linked with an arrogance that fails to recognize our intimate relationships with, and dependence on, nature; and also with a kind of pseudo/shallow-science that is not deep enough or broad enough for establishing truly sustainable and wellbeing-enabling systems.

3.    SOCIO-CULTURAL (& ETHICAL) – since the origins of organics (nearly 80 years ago), based on consumers’ concerns for health and wellbeing, the environment and its biota, and, for some, also ‘spiritual’ motivations, a marketing system of organic produce has been well established – with standards and certification, supported by systems of education, training, research and development – all based on the central tenet of organics: that the foundation of the whole system is a healthy living soil. To deceive consumers, who assume this is the case, is both unethical and lacking the same level of ‘deep’ scientific support that is available now for genuine organic producers. Naïve initiatives, such as ‘organic-hydroponic’, would eventually become historically embarrassing if they were ever to be adopted. Surely we can learn from our previous similar naïve initiatives (sadly there are so many!). The possibility of so-called ‘organic-hydroponic’ produce being imported from another country adds another layer of unethical practices!







    ORGANICS COMPARISON WITH HYDROPONICS – Prof Stuart B Hill                      




  • Tries to control all influencing variables – under the illusion that they are largely known    

  • Excludes soil mesofauna, the main ‘managers’ of soil fertility and aims to manage microbiota

  • Production systems are relatively simple    

  • Greater emphasis on rational/data-based decision making by producers – significantly decontextual    

  • Largely entropic (consuming capital)  

  • Highly vulnerable to ‘sabotage’/mistakes – low resilience    

  • Energy negative    

  • Low biodiversity and ecological integrity – with low system-maintenance capabilities    

  • Not valued by health-conscious consumers and environmentalists    

  • Ecologically unsustainable    




  • Aims to enable natural processes to optimally maintain systems – acknowledging that the variables and their relationships are complex and largely unknown.

  • Manages in ways that support soil mesofauna, enabling them to ‘manage’ soil microbiota and soil health and well-being.

  • Systems are highly complex

  • Includes much greater reliance on producers’ experience and knowledge of nature, and intuitive sensitivity – especially re when, where, and how to do things (highly contextual)

  •  Largely negentropic (building capital)

  • Energy positive – or potentially so

  • Much more able to adapt, buffer, and recover from impacts – high resilience

  • High biodiversity and ecological integrity – with high system-maintenance capacity

  • Highly valued by health-conscious consumers and environmentalists

  • Potentially ecologically sustainable

About Professor Hill


 Involvement in these areas since 1960s


 Conducted one of the first whole ecosystem studies that examined community and energy relationships (University of the West Indies, Trinidad [1965-7], and Reading University, UK [1097-9]); it was the

earliest such study conducted by a single researcher; and I received awards for Best PhD Thesis and Best PhD Student; this laid part of the foundation for my subsequent interest in ‘ecological soil and

agroecosystem management’


 Friend of the late Lady Eve Balfour, protégé of Sir Albert Howard and initiator of the Soil Association in the UK – and regarded by many as the ‘father’ of organic farming and gardening


 Member of the small group (that met in Paris and London in the mid-1970s) that created the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)


 Was a speaker at the first IFOAM Conference (Switzerland; 1977); and co-organised, with Clement Boulanger, the second IFOAM Conference (Montreal; 1978); this was the first to include representatives from ‘less-developed countries’ (we obtained funding from the Canadian government to make this possible); and I edited the proceedings, which were published together with those of the third Conference

(Belgium; 1980) in 1982


 Established one of the first institutes of sustainable agriculture within a university: Ecological Agriculture Projects (EAP) in 1974 in McGill University in Montreal, Canada (; was initially aided

in this by Richard Merrill (author of Radical Agriculture and the Energy Primer), and Spencer Cheshire (leader of the ‘Canadian Organic Soil Association’ [later called ‘Land Fellowship’], and editor of the Land

Bulletin, Canada’s first Organic Farming Magazine; 1953)


 Taught one of the first undergraduate courses on Ecological Agriculture in a university (from mid-1980s)


 Was a Keynote Speaker at the first conference in Canada on Ecological Agriculture (PEI; 1978); Wendell Berry was another Keynote speaker


 Was invited by Scott Nearing (author of Living the Good Life and one of the ‘fathers’ of the ‘back-to- the-

land movement’ in North America), and Elliott Coleman (world-leader in organic horticulture) to co-present with them at the first major conference in Maine on organics


 From the mid-‘80s to ‘90s offered workshops annually at most Natural Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Conferences in the New England region, and was Keynote Speaker in 1989


 Published dozens of papers, and annotated bibliographies, on organic and ecological approaches in agriculture (many are available at:


 Supervised many Research Masters and PhD students studying a broad range of aspects of organic and sustainable agriculture; and have been external examiner for many more


 Conducted the first study, and wrote the first report, for the Canadian Government on organic agriculture



 At the invitation of the late Herbert Koepf (the protégé of Einfried Pfeiffer, the protégé of Rudolph Steiner), wrote the Forward to his last book, The Biodynamic Farm


 Originator (in 1976) of the term ‘Deep Organics’ (which, like Permaculture’, emphasises design of systems that enable well-being and sustainability), as distinguished from ‘Shallow Organics’ (which

largely substitutes natural inputs for non-natural ones)


 Unlike most who defined organic agriculture just as a set of practices that prevented the use of synthetic inputs, I defined it primarily as a ‘system of production’ and a ‘philosophy’, i.e., I focused on a whole-

system approach and included ‘ethical’ aspects of the approach


 Was agricultural advisor for the ‘Ark’ (an early solar building in which food was produced and waste recycled – designed by Dr John Todd and colleagues from the New Alchemy Institute) in Prince Edward

Island, Canada – this was Canada’s contribution to the First UN Conference on Human Settlements

(Vancouver; 1976)


 Conducted one of the first studies (1977) for a government (New Brunswick) on ‘Energy and Agriculture’, in which many of the current discussions on agriculture’s dependence on non-renewable resources and its implications for the environment and climate change were examined


 With John and Nancy Jack Todd (then from the ‘New Alchemy Institute’ in Cape Cod, Massachusetts) and Jay Baldwin (subsequently editor of the Whole Earth Catalogue), took the first steps in establishing a coralline island in the Seychelles as self-sufficient in food and energy (1980 and 1982)


 Served on the Editorial Boards of several organic and sustainable agriculture (and related) journals: including the Journal of Sustainable Agriculture, Biological Agriculture and Horticulture, Alternatives, The

Trumpeter: Journal of Ecospophy; International Journal of Biosocial Research; Ecopolitics: Thought and Action


 Co-Founding Editor (2006) of the only refereed journal on organics in the southern hemisphere – Journal of Organic Systems –


 Served on the Board of numerous organisations associated with organic and sustainable agriculture,

including Chair of the Board of the International Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (Minneapolis, MN; 1989-1995)


 Trained as a psychotherapist, and was the first to give presentations and write papers about the psychological aspects of organic and sustainable agriculture


 I have worked in agricultural and development projects in the West Indies, French West Africa, Indonesia, The Philippines, China, the Seychelles, the UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.


 In Australia I have especially been working with graziers to help them make their farms more sustainable; and I have given numerous presentations and workshops


 At the invitation of David Holmgren, I wrote the Forward to his book Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability (2002)


 In 2005 I was one of the Keynote speakers at the IFOAM conference in Adelaide; and in 2006 at the Permaculture Convergence in Melbourne; I was Chair of the 2008 Permaculture Convergence in

Turramurra (North Sydney)


 My latest books are: Ecological Pioneers: A Social History of Australian Ecological Thought and Action (with Dr Martin Mulligan; Cambridge UP, 2001), Learning for Sustainable Living: Psychology of Ecological Transformation (with Dr Werner Sattmann-Frese; Lulu, 2008) and Social Ecology: Applying Ecological Understanding to our Lives and our Planet 

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