Miolea Organic Farm

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

 

 
 

Nutrient Management or Manure 101

 We are in class to learn how to fertilize a field, with the correct amount of nutrients.  Given the fields’ history of fertilization, soil analysis, manure analysis, animal type and amount of time that has passed, I can tell you how much Nitrogen-N, Phosphate-P, Potash-K (N-P-K), lime and other trace minerals you may need.  It is known as Maryland's Nutrient Management (NM) Regulations.  Because we live in Maryland, we must submit a NM plan that outlines our use and applications of fertilizer and manures for the coming year based on the yield goals we have for a particular crop.

 It is all part of cleaning and protecting the Chesapeake Bay.  The Chesapeake is a body of water that has some of the best blue crabs, oysters and rockfish (striped bass) you will ever eat.  That would also include a crab cake, made using the back fin or lump portion of the crab.  .  A  crab cake is a seasonal delicacy that has no equal in the culinary world, the soft sweet taste of meat with just a touch of spice and a binder to keep it all together.  I am a born and bred Baltimorean, so I was born with blue crab genes.  Eating crabs was a summer treat for us growing up and it was always a big party with lots of people.  It was a “Right of Passage” when you got old enough to drink beer with the crabs.  You really do not get the full taste of crabs until you have a cold beer to wash down the salty, fiery seasoning that is used when steaming the crab.

In Baltimore, you grow up with crabs.  First, you are fed crabmeat because you are too young to pick the crab.  Then you get to an age where if you do not learn to pick crabs you do not eat crabmeat.  Then you learn how to go “crabbin Hun”!  Crabbing is the act of harvesting crabs from the bay and its tributaries.  This activity comes in many forms, tie a chicken leg on a string and hang it off a pier, throw a trap into the water with beef lips or run a five hundred foot line with meat tied at six-foot intervals.  

With the string, you wait to feel a tug, which is an indication that a crab is on the line.  You slowly raise the chicken leg until you can just barely see the crab.  If you are skilled enough, you have a wire net in the water ready to scoop the delicacy off the line. If not, someone else does the net for you.  With the trap, you just wait a bunch of hours, go back, pull it up, and take the crabs out.  The preferred method for us is the trout-line setup.  If you do trout-line or string the start time is always the same.  You are up at four in the morning and out the door to get things setup in the water. 

When we asked why so early it was always the same answer, "The crabs cannot see you if it is dark out.  If they do not see you on the surface, you have a better chance of catching the crab".  Even back then, I questioned "If the crab could not see us what made them think we would see the crab".  It did not matter who you went with either.  Friends, family or charter; it was always the same time, get up at four o’clock in the morning and head out to the water.  Add to that crabbing is not without its perils.  Crabs do have claws, with pinchers and survival instincts, which means at some point you may be obliged to  give blood to the harvest. 

At the end of the day, the smell of "Old Bay" seasoning mixed with beer and apple cider vinegar steaming the crabs’ makes it all worth it.  It is that smell, the taste and knowing you have caught the crabs that makes it special.    

Given our history and taste for crab, you start to see this class and certification have greater meaning for us than just meeting a State requirement.  It fits within our ecological practices and allows us to apply proper amounts of fertilizer to our fields thus saving money and maximizing yields.  The only problem is we have to pass the exam in order to receive certification.

So we must learn how to tell how much manure is in a field, given the type of animal (cow, pig, chicken etc), the average weight of the animal, how many hours, if any, they are indoors and what bedding was used, versus outdoors and how long they have been on a particular piece of land.    We will never use this information because of how we currently use our chickens.  They are outside all day and are moved to new clean areas frequently.  You need soil and manure analyses, historical data on previous fertilizing, and past nutrient analysis in order to determine how much N-P-K are currently available in your soil and how much of each you may need to meet yield goals. Suffice it to say, I feel like I am back in school and the old test anxieties are rearing their ugly heads. 

We will learn how to write a complete nutrient management plan, calculating how much N-P-K is needed on our soil for next year’s growing season.  We have learned the proper techniques for getting soil and manure samples and how to submit them for analysis along with what type of analysis protocol is warranted.   We have homework, homework!  

As complicated, as this stuff seems, it is an integral part in saving scarce resources and ultimately the farmer really benefits from not over-spending on nutrients.  Therefore, we are putting our noses to the grindstone to become a Maryland Certified Operator.  This means we can write our own nutrient management plan and not have to pay to have it done.  Therefore, if you ever want to know how much animal manure you have out in your field, I know the formula to tell you how to calculate the amount.  Household pets excluded.

 Buy Local: It is a way to save the environment and support your community  

 

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