May 16, 2013
Talkin’ Shop: What’s your take on organic farming?

Editor's note: This is a complete list of the responses to the Talkin' Shop question on page 35 of the June 2013 issue of VGN.

I think organic farming is an excellent way of minimizing the negative impact of agriculture on the environment, not only by eliminating the use of potentially harmful pesticides and fertilizers but also by building a healthy living soil through the use of cover crops, organic matter and the introduction of natural organisms. Creating a sustainable growing environment is key to the long-term wellbeing of agriculture.
Organic farming helps create a special market for customers who are environmentally and health-conscious. Organic food generally has better taste, as well as a higher vitamin and mineral content.
That being said; there remains in my mind a serious question with respect to what exactly does organic mean! Prior to government controls, organic certification was more strict with both requirements as well as follow-up inspections. Many true organic growers feel, as I do, the current organic certification regulations and administration of the program is significantly watered down compared to the ideals held by the “original” organic movement.
Stephen Otrembiak
Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

As a CCOF-certified vegetable grower in Sonoma County, it is the only way to sell to grocery stores. There is no more room on the shelves for non-certified produce. Organic farming is like rocket science. Each property is a unique ecosystem that no PCA could ever figure out for you. I love what I do, but haven’t made the big money. However, unlike other agricultural products which are the cause of many chronic illnesses, needless suffering and early death, organic vegetables make people healthy. For example, I have a loyal retail customer who, after 25 year of ulcerative colitus and pharmaceuticals due to starch, animal fat and high fructose corn syrup, was facing major surgery. He became vegan cold turkey, dropped 30 pounds and, three years later, he is cured. Many people over the years have thanked me for growing products that have helped save their life. That pat on the back for helping make this a better world makes organic farming the right choice for me.
Greg Nilsen
Wine Country Cuisine
Sonoma County, Calif.

All systems have their advantages and disadvantages. A farmer has to choose what is best for himself or herself.
Mike Hiener
Dorset, Ohio

I am not an organic farm, although I have no problem with farms that are. I try to keep my use of chemicals to a minimum by properly timing the applications. Of course, the biggest thing is to follow the instructions on the label. As long as you use your chemicals in the manner in which they were meant, I do not feel they pose a health risk.
Mitch Miller
Miller’s Produce
Stewartstown, Pa.

The word “organic” is a feel-good word that makes people feel like they are eating safer, more nutritious food. And this justifies the considerably higher price charged for organic produce. While science has proven conventionally grown produce is just as safe and nutritious, that doesn’t seem to change public perception. Maybe conventional farmers need to do a better job of relaying this message to the public.
Janice Hale
Hillcrest Orchards
Ellijay, Ga.

Eating is an intimate act. For any number of reasons, a growing number of people make conscious decisions about what they choose to put into their bodies, and all of us (especially the most conservative among us) should be able to honor an individual’s decision to do that. Some of these folks choose to include organic foods as an exclusive part of their diet; some are more sporadic; some do so only occasionally, and some not at all. It’s all good.
Organic farmers seek to connect with consumers for whom “process of production” is important. Because of definitions that now are embodied in federal law, organic certification is a way of creating a “shortcut” in language that allows buyers and sellers to communicate how they produce, and this facilitates the creation of a niche market for organic producers.
While I don’t farm organically myself (we make extensive use of IPM approaches, and have for over 20 years), I really respect the organic farmers that I know. Because they don’t have access to the pesticides and related resources that the rest of us use, I think they need to be better biologists, soil scientists, entomologists and plant pathologists than the rest of us. Because of that, I think they are showing the rest of us some really interesting things about soil biology and systems thinking that I, as a university-trained horticulturist, never got exposed to 30 years ago. I get smarter when I hang out with organic producers, and they make me better in the process.
Is organic farming for everyone? No, and it doesn’t need to be. I hear too many crotchety conventional farmers pooh-poohing their organic neighbors; they shouldn’t. If you want to grow conventionally, we’re adding 2 billion people to the planet over the next 40 years, and there will be plenty of market for conventionally grown commodities. Seize that opportunity and run with it. Meanwhile, we should respect what our organic neighbors are doing on their farms.
Kevin Edberg
The Berry Patch
Forest Lake, Minn.

Since 1997, when I started Local Harvest CSA, my customers have asked for and received organically grown vegetables. My success as a farmer is directly linked to meeting this consumer demand.
Susan Jutz
Local Harvest CSA
Solon, Iowa

Growing organically is more than a trend, it is a viable option for all types of farms both large and small. More importantly, many of the tenets of organic farming are important to be a good conventional farmer: care of the soil, recycling of nutrients, natural products and preventative measures for pest control, traceability and record keeping – just to name a few. I would urge all conventional farmers to learn about the national organic standards as a means to improving what they are already doing.
Jacqueline A. Ricotta
Delaware Valley College
Doylestown, Pa.

My take on organic farming is that it’s the way to go. As the owner of a 130-acre u-pick fruit, vegetable and u-cut Christmas tree farm, I believe the current way we are chemically farming is not sustainable. The post-WWII chemical farming mindset has been instilled in my generation from my father and mother, and I’m 38. However, it allowed my parents to survive, barely. We are in the process of changing our cultural practices in both the fruit and vegetable division of the farm, as well as our Christmas tree operation. We have started using cover crops and are experimenting with mulches around our trees to reduce herbicide applications. Hope this helps.
Scott Carver
Carver Farms
Newman Lake, Wash.

My take is you don’t promote it enough.
Terry Marron
Windstone Farm
Williston, Vt.

I farm following organic methods, but I am not certified and I don’t see where the expense and huge paperwork hassle would get me anything. I sell everything locally, mostly at the farmers’ market. I sell face to face, and the customer can question me and visit my farm if they are concerned about how I do things.
Michael McGowan
Hallsville, Mo.

I personally salute all farmers who are trying to go organic. I’m sick and tired of all of the junk that is getting into our food supply, and then us. I feel hidden chemicals in our food is what is making America sick.
Pat Magala
Reinholds, Pa.

Organic farming is the only way to stop poisoning our Earth, insects, animals and ourselves. Organic farming actually gets better yields, saves and enhances the soil and costs less.
Clinton V. Dudley
Kingston, Wash.

I believe that the American people have been “hoodwinked.” Most of the farming practices our parents and grandparents used have been forbidden for over three decades. The chemicals that were being used 40 years ago were bad, nobody disagrees with that. But the farming practices of today are safe. As farmers, we are the true environmentalists; we all try to use best farming practices that are safe for the environment and still profitable. I want the family farm to be passed down to my children, and then to their children if they choose. The only way that happens is for me to be a good steward of the land. Unfortunately, most Americans simply cannot afford 100 percent organic food – plus if all wanted it, we do not have enough land.
Fred T. Hayes
FCC Lompoc
Lompoc, Calif.

Some organic foods are less nutritious than foods grown under more conventional practices. Chemicals are, in general, very safe now compared to older versions that were harmful to the environment and posed health dangers. I think there is a happy medium, where there is more sustainable practices that have a chance of meeting the needs of a growing world population long into the future, but still preserve the environment. In short, we have come a long way and are still learning what we need to know to be able to use less chemicals, and friendlier chemicals. We are learning more about biological chemistry that nature is using already. These are things we will be using also.
Most of us take vitamins and minerals to promote our good health and support our immune system, so I see little difference in helping plants and animals do the same, if it is done wisely. Organic farming has limits, but there is much to learn from those methods that should be used in more conventional agriculture, also. There are some people who for various reasons need, or feel they need, to have a chemical-free organic food source. Organic farming will continue for those individuals.
Terry Wilcox
Keith Wilcox and Sons
Rexburg, Idaho

Organic farming plays a major contributing role in the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities. With guidelines designed to maintain the natural web of life, producing and purchasing organic products pays forward a significant ancillary benefit to the environment, the consumer and to a sustainable regional economy. At this instant along our evolutionary time-line, it is critical we acknowledge this fact about our food: the rapid proliferation of GMO-based food production virtually guarantees a robust presence of impacted DNA in any non-certified organic food item grown in the U.S. As yet unknown and un-proven are the benefits and risks of cell nucleic manipulation. With GMO technology as the enabler, short-term profitability and flawed national farm policy have contributed to unsustainable soil management practices. The resulting proliferation of herbicide-resistant weed acreage is unprecedented in the history of agricultural production and strikes at the foundation of our economy, as well as the core strategy of food security. Organic farming can be an important component in the strategy for addressing these issues.
Tom Gordon
Bejo Seeds
Geneva, N.Y.

Organic farming is one of the best ways to lose money in farming today. The market is unreliable. Chain stores do not want to pay more for organic fruits and vegetables. Growing a quality product is an issue. Weed control is a nightmare. Organic is not proven to be a healthier alternative to crops grown using commercial fertilizers and pesticides. Kent Feldman
Schoolcraft, Mich.

I am a certified organic grower, so I have a very positive take on organics.
Carol LeResche
Clearmont, Wyo.

I think that there will be a continued push for organic products, but I think that some are becoming skeptical – to question if products that say “organic” are truly organic. To me, USDA cannot be trusted, which leaves skepticism in my mind about the organic brand printed on products. I think there is an increase in the demand for organic products. I personally buy organic when I can afford it.
Sue Bostic
Joe’s Trees & Pumpkin Patch
Newport, Va.

You will not feed the world with organic farming, I don’t believe. I don’t believe it is healthier, safer or better quality, or that one tastes better over the other. Taste is dependent on variety and freshness. I believe it is too expensive for what you get, but it is also a personal preference. If you believe it is the best way to farm for you and if you believe it is the best way for you to eat, then it is worth it.
This will be our 50th year of conventional farming, and it works for us. We have good yields and great quality, and a great customer base. We use many of the same pesticides and fungicides as the organic growers use. We have top scores from our third-party audits for the last eight years.
We are doing things right and doing what pleases our customers, so we will continue our conventional farming and leave the organic growing to the ones that are successful with it and making it work.
Hank Scott
Long and Scott Farms
Zellwood, Fla.

We find that our area appreciates organic, naturally or conventional, as long as the grower is upfront about method. We have a small seasonal farmers’ market, and the “strictly” organic thing is not what people here are looking for exclusively. We are still predominantly rural in our area, and people are looking for a bushel and a peck, prefer minimal exposure to pesticides, but aren’t demanding only organic.
Linda Helmly
Oglethorpe Fresh Farmers Market
Lexington, Ga.

Organic farming is one of the only sustainable ways to farm.
Dani Baker
Cross Island Farms
Wellesley Island, N.Y.

I care about the products my family eats. However, apart and aside from the fact that I have a brown thumb, I have neither the time nor the inclination to grow our own food. Thank goodness there are farmers who will! Many others like me either don’t have the space available to them or, for one reason or another, are unable to raise their own food for their families. Thanks to the dedicated farmers who devote the extra time and effort to provide a variety of safe foods for me to choose from to feed my family. I am more than willing to pay a bit more for their labors. When I see the picture-perfect fruits and vegetables that are offered in grocery stores without an organic label, I visualize a discarded pile of cans full of pesticides and a person with a teaspoon full of pesticides offering it to their child to eat. I think of all the animals, as well as people, who have been harmed by pesticides, and the old song “Big Yellow Taxi,” that says “farmer, farmer, put away your DDT, give me spots on my apples, but leave me the birds and the bees.”
Donna Scarpa
San Luis Obispo, Calif.

I’m a chemical-free farmer, so I think it is great.
Jacqueline J. Cunningham-Walls
Little Red Hen Urban Farm
Rock Island, Ill.

As a certified organic grower, I obviously support growing organically. We are a very diversified fruit and vegetable operation in a climate that has a bit less disease and insect pressure, so it is a bit easier – but not easy. Just like in any farming, careful thought must go into the entire growing system. I would rather you focus on the issues that we all face in farming, like labor, water, new insect pests, markets and food safety, rather than issues that divide.
Claudia Ferrell
Berry Patch Farms
Brighton, Colo.

In spite of millions being spent each year to convince consumers that organic produce is not worth it, they buy more every year than they did the year before. We should give them what they want.
Tom Denison
Corvallis, Ore.

I think it has its place. I believe that a balance between GMO, selective breeding, hybridization, IPM, conventional and organic growing can be made in a way that is mutually beneficial to all. That “all” includes humans, animals, environment, soil life and structure.
It seems that there is still quite a bit of aversion to organic labels, and it will take time to gain wider acceptance. Marketing, cost, public perception, taste and availability all have some work to do, but I believe it will get better.
Mike Allen
Charleston, S.C.

It is the future.
Phil McGrath
McGrath Family Farm
Camarillo, Calif.

We continue to look at and try more organic products and methods, but with a slow economy the money for the effort is not there. Eating organic is a rich man’s sport.
Shannon Pregitzer

I am completely for it. I have done organic farming for over 35 years. My parents and grandparents were organic farmers. The other hassle we are up against is the GMO seeds and food. This is something that will come back to haunt us the way that many of the present herbicides and pesticides have. The more we put onto the land, the more we are having problems with all the weeds and insect pests.
Barbara Lindemann

I believe it is the wave of the future.
Martin Goedken

I practice organic farming as much as possible. Organic sprays help insure better vegetables.
James R. Johnson

A lot of people are starting to go that way. I have a small, 3-acre farm and I’m going organic. I understand it takes about three years to get certified. I like to eat organic, if available.
Harold Lee

I believe that organic farming has a place as an alternative choice for concerned consumers. I don’t think most people have an aversion to organic labels or products. Price is an issue among consumers where they need to make the dollar stretch. What I find in the blogosphere and in other opinion pages is that there are some really vocal proponents of organic farming that really demonize conventional farming, and that’s not right. We are all farmers and we all need to stick together without bashing the other. I believe we can highlight the beneficial aspects of each without the negativity.
Jodi Venema

Organics begs the understanding of basic ecology principles, all of which can be applied to and benefit more conventional management choices.
Lydia Clayton

“If you think about it, the organic movement is at its heart a rejectionist one,” he continued. “It doesn’t accept many modern technologies on principle. Like the Amish in Pennsylvania, who froze their technology with the horse and cart in 1850, the organic movement essentially freezes its technology in somewhere around 1950, and for no better reason.” – Mark Lynas in a New Yorker magazine article.
Tom Strzelecki
Scranton, Pa.

I have chosen to farm organically, although non-certified, as my markets don’t demand certification right now. I chose organic because I am concerned about the health and ecological impacts of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Additionally, my market, which is primarily CSA, wants produce raised without these inputs. I do, however, want to point out that organic farming is not, at least in practice, rejectionist; in fact, we use as much technology as any other growers, such as high tunnels, row covers, organic pesticides, improved seed and less tillage. However, we have set aside certain parts of technology as being, in our estimation, too risky, such as GMOs, synthetic poisons and fumigants. I agree wholeheartedly that all farmers need to be communicating, and pointing fingers is not helping anyone. I have several friends who are conventional growers, and we have had many useful and respectful conversations over the years about our practices without getting into personal attacks. Farmers are farmers, however they farm.
Curtis and Sarah Millsap
Millsap Farm
Springfield, Mo.

As an organic farmer, it was disheartening to see such a pointless and divisive question in an agricultural magazine. I have never seen a question asking for opinions on Vidalia onions, Michigan cherries or Idaho potatoes. Just like those growers, we follow a set of rules and supply high-quality fruits and vegetables for consumers. We wake up every morning with the same concerns as every farmer: We fret about the weather, labor and can we sell what we grow in a very competitive market? And, like all farmers, we must deal with disease, insects and competing vegetation. The difference is that organic growers approach these problems using the tools given to us by the science of ecology and genetics, rather than chemistry. With the National Organic Program, as with Vidalia onions, farmers and customers have a well-defined choice.
Following on the heels of Paul Friday’s misinformed opinion piece and the number of responses from organic farmers, I expected a nuanced inquiry more useful for the general readership. For example, asking newly certified organic growers why they decided to grow organically? Where other growers get their information on organic agriculture? Or why organic growers, such as myself and those responding to Friday’s piece, choose to shell out precious brass for a magazine so clearly devoted to chemically reliant farming? The answers to these questions would have provided a more useful and constructive discussion.
Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm
Gaston, Ore.

Organic is just another religion that some farmers and customers believe in. If it works, grow it. The next religion: GMO seed.
Carl Musso
Pueblo, Colo.

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