Update January 2016
This question “are you organic?” can really be many questions….. Do you wish to know “are the fruits, vegetables, flowers and nuts you produced USDA Certified Organic?” Or perhaps, “do you spray harmful chemicals?” Or even “How, exactly, do you grow your plants?” “How ‘green’ are you?” “How ‘sustainable’ are you?”
So here goes my attempt to frame an answer to questions that encompass
many complex issues. Explanations of this kind invariably feel like
they are a backed-into-the-corner defense of any practice that I choose
(with good reason) with which a committee somewhere else disagrees, but
so be it.
I adamantly refuse to pursue USDA Organic certification, so, unless I get hit on the head and lose all perspective, this farm will never carry The Paper. I have been
gardening organically (whoops, I’m not legally allowed to say that) for 30+ years, and grew vegetables without sprays long before the word “organic” was even widely known by consumers. I have had my nose in Rodale books since I was 12 years old. I am
completely offended that the word “organic” is now owned by the USDA, and that they alone have the right to use it in labeling.
With respect to my close farmer friends that do honor the full requirements of the organic label, our national domestic organic program is frankly a joke. Imports come in all the
time from countries like China and Mexico (where meaningful supervision of a
complex agricultural program is impossible) that are “certified
organic”. Mega-farms that rape nature and do not use any sort
of sustainable practices yet adhere to the letter of the law are
“certified organic”. Wal-Mart sells “certified organic”. Watchdog organizations like the Cornucopia Institute constantly report on companies caught cheating organic consumers, and the NOS (National Organic Standards) committee seems increasingly under corporate control. There is completely insufficient oversight, and in my opinion, consumers are likely being cheated out of their food spending dollars unless they have been able to forge a personal relationship with the farms, farmers and businesses growing and supplying their
food. The temptation to deceive is too great for many greedy businesses, when so many consumer dollars are up for grabs for these higher-priced products. And as a last mention, airborne drift from non-organically managed areas and chemicals present in the water make it next to impossible, in our industrial age, to have a truly organic farm in the vast majority of places on the planet. One would have to be blessed with miles and miles of distance from any other agricultural activity, mountain spring water, and land previously untouched by human hands. And even then, some part-per-million or billion of something bad would still have floated in on the winds, if one looked hard enough. We no longer are able to have purity, we can only attempt mitigation.
I rarely, rarely use them. When I do, the insecticides are usually OMRI
certified, and even then, I apply them only in dire need and after a
lot of research. I can think of an instance where I used a labeled insecticide, and that was a compound that was sprayed on the trunks of the trees to combat a serious fruit fly–not on the fruit itself. And one other time when I had to use a systemic product to battle a pest that was killing the grapevines…we threw away the crop that year but saved the vines. We eat the same food we sell, and I would never do anything to someone else’s food that isn’t ok for my family, friends and customers.
I crush harmful insects by hand, make bottle traps of water, corn oil and bacon grease or fruit, and allow lots of chickens free reign of the property in order to further control problem insects. We also use boric acid based products to help reduce ant colonies. Frankly, in many cases an insect infestation is an indicator of something the farmer isn’t doing right–the plant, the soil, SOMETHING is not happy or as it should be. Rather than pouring on chemicals, the wise choice is to take a hard look to discover the underlying cause.
In addition to flaming, mowing, manual and mechanical cultivation, and hand weeding, in the past, we used some herbicides. In the past, we used glyphosate
type herbicides only, if there were severe weed problems. This choice was made based on the data available at the time, and also after talking to people who are experts in chemistry and toxicology. But in 2011 I began to read scientifically based objections to how these kinds of herbicides interact with soil nutrients….that was unwelcome news. Multiple weeds have also developed resistance to this class of product….and that body of research continues to grow. So we have abandoned 99% of the use of those products….the remaining 1% is to control subsurface invasive weeds that do not respond to any normal method of control, for field bindweed and bermuda grass. They are spot-applied and…really, this is quite rare… maybe, once a year… if that. When needed, we now use a product whose active ingredient is paraquat. Here is a good article about paraquat http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraquat. It is applied minimally and carefully when used. In 2012 we were given a large tractor we can use for row crops, and in 2013 we met friends who introduced us to plastic mulch in field rows. These have given us solid and better alternatives to the vast majority of our herbicide use. We also were able to afford purchasing a new, powerful trimmer-mower. Our gardens are flush with honeybees, native bees, butterflies, earthworms, ladybugs, lacewings, and praying mantises..which says something in itself.
We use organic and some conventional fertilizers. Specifically, compost, composted poultry manure, rock dust, Miracle-Gro, and assorted organic products. Miracle-Gro is mostly used in the greenhouse, because it works and I get healthy plant starts; I see better results than with many of the organic products I’ve tried.
We use copper compounds in the orchard, in the winter dormant season. We used to use plain copper spray but in 2012 started using something called KoCide 3000, which works far better at controlling fungal disease in fruit trees. We were losing some of our peaches and nectarines to brown rot and leaf curl, and this product helped a lot. It is copper based as well; you can read about it here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copper(II)_hydroxide .
Other basic practices on this farm include using mulch (straw or plastic),
interplanting flowers with vegetables, rotating crops, growing nitrogen fixing crops, promoting a good population of beneficial insects and native pollinators by
minimizing soil disturbance, burning diseased plant waste, and saving and distributing seed for borders of plants that aid in attracting and maintaining beneficials,
increasing use of flame control and mowing of weeds in winter, and
continual learning and researching in order to improve on what we are doing.
I personally believe that much more than looking for a “USDA Organic ”
label on a box, we desperately need to get back to buying and eating local foods that have been raised in a sustainable manner as part of a larger
solution to our food issues. All of our farm members are aware of our
practices. They can come here at any time and see for themselves, they know us,
and are personally comfortable with how food is raised here. What
we do may not satisfy everyone’s personal requirements, and that’s OK.
I’d rather be honest and give an open explanation of the Whats and Whys
of our decision-making, and allow transparency for our customers….informed choice should not have to be a struggle…and yet so often, it is.