Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective

Investigative Hold

Investigative Hold is Quarantine just with different words...

We experienced our first forced poultry quarantine in our existence.   We were within a six-mile radius of an avian flu outbreak and it was not a pleasant experience.  It all started one Saturday morning, with a call from the Maryland Department of Agriculture, Veterinarian.  We were told that a USDA and MDA pathologist would be visiting the farm on the next day to take samples of our flock.  This is something we thought we would never go through.  However, once it happens you just hope for the best, keep everything in check and have patience.  Also, it makes you realize how vulnerable you are  and need to start to develop a plan where flocks are completely separated so that you do not have total losses.

One bird with avian flu means the entire flock goes.  This was a sobering thought.  If we lost our flock, we would be dead in the water.  One of the few moneymaking activities we do on the farm is egg production.  With time to think, we started to realize that we would quickly go out of business and suffer huge monetary losses if we lost the flock.  We are already on a thin margin and starting over does not seem likely.  This then made us think about how we actually could survive if we did have an outbreak.

While on the phone with the Veterinarian, we learned exactly what an Investigate Hold would entail.  First, no poultry could leave the farm or come onto the farm. Second, if a truck or car came to the farm before the vehicle left, their tires were prayed with a two parts per million solutions of bleach and water.  We took the added precaution of stopping vehicles before they came on the farm and sprayed the tires.

This could not have come at the worst time, it was in the spring and we had peeps ordered for layers and broilers.  We also had sales of peeps that had been ordered in the winter by a few of our customers.  So we  had peeps that would be leaving the farm.

Sunday morning arrived along with the USDA and MDA pathologist, dressed in biohazard suits and set about testing  one third of our flock.  The broilers were not tested because they were in their pen and not exposed.  We also practice strict bio-security protocols on the farm as a routine.  Because I was able to tell the Veterinarian about our bio-security protocols, we did get a waiver for our eggs.  If we did not have that procedure in place, we would not have been able to take eggs off the farm until the “Hold” was lifted.  That is another story.

Sunday, I helped the pathologist round up the thirty chickens and take throat cultures of the birds.  As if the stress was not high enough, I looked under a trailer and spotted what seem to be a lifeless. chicken.  I poked to get it to move and nothing.  Honestly, there was a split second where I thought I could easily get rid of the bird without being seen.  That lasted a nano-second and I knew what I had to do, I took the bird to the pathologist and showed it to them.  They looked at it determined that it did not have any of the symptoms of avian flu and told me to dispose as normal.  

Our "normal." is to place the chicken in the compost and tell it that it is time to nourish the soil as the soil has nourished you.  It is our humane practice and acknowledgement that she has given us eggs, joy, entertainment and humility, while growing from the nutrients in the ground.  

We were getting peeps on Monday and I asked about receiving them.  They looked at me and said they will get back to me.  Monday came and we picked up our layers and broilers.  The first problem was a fifty percent mortality of the delivered layer peeps.  On Wednesday, we got a call from USDA stating that we could not bring peeps onto the farm or take any off.

We have a small window of time each spring to bring in our peeps and get them to laying stage before winter sets in and they are hearty.  The quarantine lasted close to two months; we lost sales and the ability to replenish our aging layers.  Our flock tested negative and eventually we received a release from the quarantine, but our timing was off and we need to figure out how to integrate twenty-five layers instead of fifty.

Adding new flocks to established flocks is a delicate process and takes planning.  That time is coming and we still do not have a sure integration program yet.  At least not one that we both agree will work.  It will come but until then the growing peeps are in a moveable pen and on grass.

Buy Local: It is how we can change the industrial food complex


Walk the Walk

It is farmer’s market time.  From the beginning of our foray into growing professionally, eventually you hear someone say “So and so grows using organic methods but they are not certified”.  Then it is usually followed up with "They say it is too expensive," or "The paper work is too much".  Oh, really, I am sorry I just do not buy it.  As a consumer if you hear that walk away.  If they are going to talk the talk then they should walk the walk.

These folks usually are wannabe’s and are in it for the money.  If they were true to the principles, they could register as "Organic Exempt".  It is the minor leagues of certified organic and costs a whopping thirty-five dollars to register and you do not get audited, you do have to submit the appropriate paperwork but it is no where never the volume the certified folks have.  What they are really telling you is they follow organic practices until something goes wrong then they pull out conventional herbicides, insecticides and fungicides to save their crops.

The first excuse “It is too expensive”.  What are they talking about?  Is it the certification fee or the cost of inputs for use in the growing practice?  If it is the former, it is simply not true.  There is a five hundred dollar certification fee; however, if you pass you get four hundred dollars back.  Therefore, they cannot be referring to the certification fee.  Now if it is the latter then they are not using organic methods.  The reason organics is more expensive is that you are using basic organic ingredients.  Ingredients that if it rains are washed off and you have to reapply or have a very limited shelf life.  Again, if they are referring to the inputs as being too expensive they are not using true organic methods and they are in violation of the National Organic Program and undercutting everything that hundreds of thousands of us do on a daily basis and demeaning the integrity of the organic label.

If they say they are natural, what does that mean.  We use plants that are indigenous to our area.  That way they grew up and evolved to cohabitate in our growing area.  Meaning they can defend themselves from viruses, insects, weather conditions and other environmental factors.  But I can tell you we still have to help the plants out every now and then.  More often then not really but it is because our environment is changing faster then the plants can evolve.  BMSB is just one of many factors that would lend credence.

Let us face it; they use those words to draw you in, to give you a false sense of comfort.  They know you are not going to get a tissue sample or evaluate their soil for chemicals.  We have to though.  At any point, the MDA or USDA can come onto our farm and take samples of plant tissue or our soils.  Then they will do a chemical analysis and determine if in fact there are non-organic substances.  The people that say they use organic methods do not face that scrutiny.  Nor do they face an audit each year.  This brings us to the second excuse. 

“There is too much paper work,” Once again hundreds of thousands of us in the United States and the rest of the world can do it.  We both work full time jobs and we are able to keep up with the paper work.  I know that there are some that truly think they are adhering to organic principles but if you are not certified or exempt you have no business advertising your food as organic, organically grown, or using organic methods.  Actually if you are not certified or exempt you are not allowed to use the word “Organic” at all, period.  Unless you want to pay a ten thousand dollar fine.  All natural, aqua-ponic, perma culture any of these terms replace organic, but no, the word that conjures money in their mind is organic and that is why they say, “We grow using organic methods”.  Just say thanks and walk away.  The better educated you are the worst chance they have of ripping you off and providing you something lesser then true organics.

As a consumer, we are always under attack by charlatans, a huckster posing as growers trying to cash in on what they think is a lucrative market niche, without really having to do the work, the research or spend the money that it takes to handle outbreaks.  Instead, they pretend and take the easy way out, when honestly they are just con artists.

If you are going to talk the talk, walk the walk.  If it was easy everyone would do it but growing organic is not easy, it is mentally taxing, hard physical labor on the hottest days of the year, inputs are expensive and outcomes heartbreaking at times.  The longer you do it the more you learn, the more audits you go through the stronger you become.  Then you hear someone say so and so grows using organic methods, yeah and I am good looking.  Unfortunately, just because I say it, does not make it so.  

Buy Local: Ask questions, if they say they, use organic methods ask for their certification.  Otherwise, walk away feeling proud you were not duped.     


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