Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) has certified us as a poultry processor. This allows us to sell our organic chickens at farmers markets, restaurants and stores. The MDA came out, inspected our processing, and tested our wastewater and chilling process along with all of our documentation.
I cannot adequately describe how conflicted this feels. We accomplished something big but at what cost. I started writing this blog as a way of helping others that choose this path, purging my actions through explanation, and documenting our struggles, failures and possible successes as urbanites transitioning into organic farmers. As was previously stated we took on this challenge knowing failure had more weight on the scale then success.
We carefully planned what we would do, as a farm, and how we would go about growing healthy, safe food for our community. We had been growing for ourselves for twenty years so we felt confident (unjustifiably) that we could grow on a larger scale. Confidence is a fickle emotion and fleeting feeling. You know you are going to have setbacks, life is never perfect and neither are humans. Therefore, we understood that a certain amount of perseverance was necessary in order to sustain our trek towards our goals.
My wife and I have changed, no big shock there, we all change. However, this certification points to one of the most radical changes that have ever occurred in my life. In the city, you do not grow up killing things, unless you are a gangster. Killing was not part of my life, okay cockroaches and crickets’ different story. Taking a life was not part of our experience growing up.
I have documented here the pain and anguish we have suffered from all aspects of farming. Be it someone getting hurt, chickens perishing due to dogs and hawks, fruit and vegetable crop failures and not being economically sustainable. All aspects have served to make us stronger, our resolve more intense and our fortitude unyielding. However, I have changed in a way that now does not fit with the person I once was, or what I ever thought I would be.
Since starting the farm, I have lost loved ones, friends and animals dear to my heart. You are not supposed to be attached to your food. Nonetheless, I baby my corn and tomatoes the same way I baby our layers and our meat birds. There is this dichotomy wrapped in a paradigm (of what was and was not) that reflects the struggle I have with farming. It is an undertaking that makes you change your views about who you are and what you need to do in order to be sustainable. I am not talking about shades of gray or operating on the line of right and wrong. I am an ethical, moral, honest, law abiding citizen. I volunteer in my community, as well as, donating money to the Humane Society and other worthy causes. We give our spent layers to the soup kitchen so the last thing the chicken does is to nourish the less fortunate among us. The toll our endeavor exacts has been unexpected.
Nevertheless, I have changed in a way that any one who knew me would not expect. In farming, you have to do things that you may not be comfortable with. I can only speak for myself, but a part of my heart, emotions and feelings have taken a pummeling. When you routinely take the life of an animal that you have raised since its birth there is a certain distance that must be maintained in order to protect yourself. Which I find is impossible, yet I have to and there in lies the quandary. We are a humane farm, we will always be a humane farm but I struggle with the whole processing certification. Food is fruits, vegetables, seafood and animals and growing is like a roller coaster that never ends. No matter the intangible side, at least now, we are official.
Buy local: Tens of thousands of us are struggling to provide you with safe fresh alternatives. Take advantage!
Posted by Brian
@ 06:17 PM EDT
We are often asked to explain the difference between organic and non-organic fruits and vegetables. It is hard to sum up, such that the person that inquired does not regret asking the question.
It is such a basic question yet, the answer can go from the scientific to the metaphysical and everything in between. Sometimes, I will give a one-word answer, TASTE, then there are the studies that point to the twenty-five percent increase in vitamins and minerals when compared to their conventional counterparts (see University of California-Davis study). Nevertheless, you will find counter arguments to those studies and then cost comparisons are tossed into the discussion. "Why is organic so much more expensive and is it worth it?” Depending on the view, you get different answers but CNN answered the question succinctly.
Not everything was right in the article, especially about the start of Organics. The father of modern day organic techniques comes from a man named J.I. Rodale and the Rodale Institute that was founded in Kutztown Pennsylvania in 1947. Most people look at organic as the result but it is just one variable in the whole sustainability model.
We have been saying we are beyond organics for a while, because organics speaks to how vegetables, fruits and poultry are grown and handled. It does not address all aspects of sustainability on a farm. When we first started growing professionally, I looked at sustainability as making enough money to be able to live and produce in the next year. Until you start to make money, you cannot support the operation unless you have capital or some sort of financial backing, which is why 90+ percent of all small farms have income from off farm activities, i.e. another job. This is from the 2002 USDA census. However, large or small, money is not the only variable, the other parts not to ignore is environmental which entails water, soil quality and treatment of animals. The whole sustainability model as professed and proven by Joel Salatin of "Polyface Farm." in Swoop, Virginia looks at the farm as a whole with intricate parts woven together in concert mimicking what Mother Nature does on her own.
Because of farm practices that emphasize environmental consciousness, soil and nutrient replenishments, water resource conservation and protection of scarce resources the sustainable model re-enforces what is right and wrong with today's farming practices. In Michael Pollan's book "The Omnivores Dilemma," Joel Salatin points out the difference between a farm that does one thing only, like growing corn or just beef and that of a farm that uses the sustainable model. Paraphrasing Joel, he said look at a cornfield and look at a field that has been left alone to Mother Nature. What do you see in a conventional cornfield? You will find one species of plant life, the corn and maybe an insect if it was away when the insecticide was sprayed. Looking at the other field you see Mother Nature’s diversity, you will see thousands of insects and plant varieties in that field and that is what the sustainable model is designed to accomplish. How do these plants in the field get nutrition from year to year as opposed to the cornfield that is sprayed with fertilizer and insecticides?
Simplistically stated, plants, trees, insects and animals get nutrients through a complex dance of decay, rejuvenation and replacement Much like rotating and resting fields planted with green manure and nitrogen rich grasses and legumes, then letting your animals graze on those grasses to keep it down. You do not let the animals eat the grasses until the grass cannot replenish itself, you let them eat enough to maintain the stability of the soil in the field and then you move them to the next grazing ground. Management intensive grazing is a sustainable practice that uses the grass but not enough to abuse the grass. An example would be to bring cows onto land, let them eat some and move them off to the next section of field. Next, you would move chickens in the grass that the cows have left behind. Cows like higher grass heights while chickens prefer short grass. When all is said and done what is left behind is incorporated into the composition of the field replenishing nutrients and minerals naturally, you get to see the complete cycle of life in this field. Grass is eaten, the cow gets nutrients and gains weight, it leaves behind manure, enough to attract bugs, which lay eggs and then the chickens, get a crack at the grass and bugs that helps them lay eggs high in Omega-3's.
The chickens through pecking and scratching have aerated the soil leaving enough manure behind to feed the flora and fauna. This dance takes place such that a cow and chicken are never on a previous field until that field has fully become reestablished (usually in 8-12 months). Our production gardens are rested and fertilized this way. Although we do not have, cows we keep moving the chickens from space to space in order to evenly fertilize the whole garden.
What is organic? It is a way to protect our environment for future generations.
Buy Local: Become part of the sustainability model.
Posted by Brian
@ 09:39 AM EDT
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Agrication - [Ag-ri-kay-shun]; 1. Verb; The act of educating people about their food source and why the industrial food complex is doing the exact opposite. 2. Noun; One who takes a weeks vacation from their full time, off farm income job, to work full-time on the farm.
Iowa recently passed a law called the "Ag-Gag". This law makes it illegal to go into large animal farms and slaughterhouses, undercover, to document animal and environmental abuses. Seems the big concentrated animal farms are tired of being exposed for the deplorable conditions and actions employees take at their corporations. Other states have tried to pass similar legislation and thankfully, have not succeeded. This legislation was conceived and sponsored by ALEC. ALEC stands for the American Legislative Exchange Council and is funded by some major fortune 500 companies. What does ALEC do? Basically it writes legislative briefs or whitepapers and lobbies for causes that benefit its sponsors. Their sole reason for existence is to influence politicos.
All you need to know is the two middle words of their name. Legislative Exchange, broken down; legislative stands for laws, exchange stands for what the corporations get from those changes in the law. Okay, maybe I am the only one that sees the correlation between the former and the latter but it is too rich not to draw the conclusion or collusion if you will. ALEC by the way was the chief architect of the “Stand Your Ground” laws.
We have always been big into Agrication. Besides being an environmentally sustainable operation our mission includes education. We hold educational tours, seminars, speaking engagements and hands on classes. More and more I am talking to people that get it and are asking informed questions. Ten years ago conversations with customers centered on the type of vegetables and how they tasted. Today people are more likely to talk about sourcing their food and sustainability. I get plenty of questions about chemicals, general gardening, insects, native plants, humane farming, poly-cultures, colony collapses and other aspects of fruit and vegetable growing. Agrication forms the backbone of helping people understand why industrial farming is harming our environment, making people ill and affecting the ecology negatively. Our intent is to inform, if people decide to support their local farmers then in a big way the surrounding community has benefited.
We are in a major shift in our society’s way of viewing food and sustenance. Books covering topics such as living off local food and sourcing your food have been great sellers and continue to be referenced. This has to happen if our future generations are to live in an environment that will not harm them because they breathe, eat or drink water.
We all owe due diligence for our future generations, we cannot be so shortsighted and profit driven that we rape the very earth that will sustain our future family. We learned from the dust bowl, why cannot we learn from castrated bullfrogs, feminized bass, upper-respiratory issues, food-borne allergies, illnesses, anti-biotic resistant bacteria and sometimes death. What will it take?
Buy Local: There is too much at stake not to.
Posted by Brian
@ 08:50 PM EDT