Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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Marketing 101 or Think before you speak

I was fired recently as the official spokesperson for the farm.  Seems that the last interview I did turned out to be perceived as negative.  Now I have heard that publicity, good or bad, is still publicity and perception is in the eye of the beholder. The article centered on the organic research of the brown marmarated stinkbug, the damage that it caused and the potential for damage to organic crops.  We have had a hard time fighting this bug and we have lost entire crops.  Just because we are, a small farm does not mean that the losses were small.  

Going into a growing season you have certain expectations, profit is one of them.  You dream, plan and then you contingency plan.  In Maryland, you need pre-approval for any amendment used in the coming growing season.  Amendment means anything applied to the crop or land.  This is a growing trend among organic certifiers.    

For the grower this puts extra emphasis on contingency planning.  You need to know what you may face from an environmental standpoint.  That was a lot easier to do before 2010.  As a part of growing, you learn what bugs, viruses, bacteria and weather conditions are like in your region.  Armed with that information the amount of variables you face begin to dwindle.  It is not as daunting as it seems.  That is until you face an unknown enemy with no known organic amendment available.  

Some of the older farmers around here talk about when Japanese beetles first invaded and the similarities.  Nevertheless, they are talking about a different world and time when the scientist developed a quick chemical response.  The uses of those chemicals are band today, for good reason, but conventional farmers did get relief relatively quick.   

Organic growers on the other hand do not get quick relief.  The normal process for allowing new amendments takes time.  The amendment needs vetting for organic properties, it needs a review period in which growers and others can comment, then it goes to the National Organic Standards Board for discussion and vote and if it makes it there, it goes to the Secretary of the USDA for approval in the NOP.  Recently, the EPA came out with a few rulings allowing the limited use of certain chemicals.  This was great news for the conventional folks but it had little impact on the organic folks.  The EPA went as far as approving some banned organic materials for use. 

The problem is, as I understand the regulations, EPA does not have final say over what is and what is not allowed in the NOP.  Using any of these EPA approved organic amendments could very likely result in the decertification of the land where the amendment was applied.  The complete pre-approval process, mentioned above, is designed to prevent that decertification from happening.  Once you get the certifiers approval, you have in essence obtained the right to use the amendment accordingly.  However, you must still conform to the NOP, IPM, Nutrient Management and other environmental guidelines.  There is no quick fix in organics and that is what makes growing tenuous when facing an invasive species with no natural predators or is impervious to existing organic amendments. 

When Dr. Nielson, from Michigan State University, gave the reporter our name it was so the reporter could get a growers perspective on the bug and what we face being organic.  Having lost what we lost and living with the bugs over wintering in our house peaked the reporter’s interest.  A year before, the local ABC affiliate was doing a story on Congressman Bartlett running for office and some of the story looked at his effort to get funding for research of the BMSB.  The local ABC channel interviewed him, his opponent and us.  The last thing my wife said before she left was that the house was off limits and I was not "under any circumstance" allowed to let the reporter in the house.  Therefore, they took video of the piles of stinkbugs in the barn.  

Apparently, that warning was meant for all eternity, because I was still not suppose to say anything about the house.  Now the writer did not get every detail correct in the article, I did not teach Coadee to eat stinkbugs; she just does that on her own and we do not have thousands of stinkbugs crawling on our floor.  Anyone that has encountered the bug knows the adults fly and the instars walk.  We had adults in the house just like everyone around us.  Our house sits in the middle of fifty acres of farmland.  Harvesting the soybeans chased the bugs from the field to the closest structures, which in this case, was the barn and the house.  

The first sentence in the article started this way “Brian Biggins’ life stinks.” and it went down hill from there or so I am told.  After my wife read the article, she was horrified that I had spoken about the house.  “Who is going to want to buy any of our jams or jelly’s?” she asked.  Never mind the fact that it was made in August when the bugs were outside.  "Would you go to a farm like that?”  We are an organic farm; of course we are going to have bugs people expect that.  She is entitled to her opinion as well as her privacy and I violated that, for which, I am truly sorry.  

I told her “Look, this will go the way every other bit of publicity we have had goes,” which is nowhere.  We were on the radio in Baltimore for an hour, I got one email, and we have been on local television a couple of times.  We received no comment what so ever, not even someone saying they saw us.  A local newspaper covered our cooking class three years ago.  One person asked if we were the farm in the paper.  We have been in the local paper multiple times, we even took out an advertisement, paid two hundred dollars, to run one day (in the food section) and we got one reply.  “Let’s face it,” I said, “our track record for getting sales out of our publicity has not exactly been stellar.”  Nothing seemed to change her mind to her the damage was done.  “You cannot un-ring a bell”.

She is right, you cannot un-ring a bell, but it is not like we are the only ones with bugs in the house, everyone around us faces the same problem.  She is getting better about it but I am still no longer the official spokesperson for the farm.  I am just hoping she has forgotten the password to Local Harvest, I am sure this piece would not go over so well with her either.

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