(our daughter Arabella inspecting the salad crop at a local farm)
I’ve come across many buzzwords for growing vegetables since I’ve been visiting local farms. Though conversations with the insiders – the farmers-- I’m finally starting to figure out what all of’em mean. My eyes opened wide with astonishment when I understood what it meant that a farm is organic or better certified organic or what other farmers proudly boast as 100% not certified. This means a farm has its own sustainable standards. This eco-food-jargon really spiked my interest to dig further.
(to be or not do be - that remains the question!)
Being in Lala Land
A romantic mental picture of a farmer hunting in his fields for the daily crop is all what we need to imagine to pick up that bunch of deep juicy, saturated Swiss chard from the vegetable aisle. It puts us right in a farmer’s “Alice in Wonderland.” But let’s face it there is a lot more to it than merely growing au natural, laissez-faire. We don’t think about farming techniques like crop rotation that keep the nutrients in the soil balanced, or field flooding which keep pests and drought at bay. Others try to achieve excellent farming results via vertical farming which is a year-round production method in a technical facility where a crop is in isolation protecting it from pest and disease. Pest management is not that easy like having your daughter’s lady bug collection moves out to the farmer’s field to eat the bad bug guys. I saw farmers killing the bad bugs one by one in an “organic” way by hand – is this what pest management looks like - who knows. I spoke with farmers who use IPM (integrated pest management), which is an acceptable pesticide control program it monitors, identifies and prevents outbreaks or in other words controls them. Trapping of the crop and weeding are some measures. Other methods utilize appropriate custom measured partially natural spraying mixtures of vinegar, salt and such very similar compared to used in organic field.
The Business of Organics
I was surprised by polls taken in 2006 - 2008 that people actually don’t trust “organic” produce that much anymore. Many consumers seem to shift to “natural” produce. What I noticed is that “organic” farms are rather small, usually not much over 5 -10 hectares, which mean it is not much of a business in the American sense. That said a balanced ecological field actually yields slightly more than a chemically sprayed field. But the challenge to be truly “organic” with governmental approval or not is that it takes time and patience to cultivate this nutritionally balanced soil bed.
“CNG” stands for “certified naturally grown” and is a non-profit alternate farm assurance that thrives on high organic standards without being “certified organic” and it caters to local customers. A grower must keep detailed records of planting, cultivation, fertilization, etc. and only certified seeds may be used. All in all the CNG label or procedure keeps the paperwork at bay for the farmer and puts them back to work in the field. It’s worth mentioning that there is an enormous volunteer effort to run this organization.
(Who needs perfectly straightened carrots?)
No cosmetic surgery
I appreciate the cool down-with-it looking naturally grown fruits and vegetables. Hey, it does not have to be perfectly round, shiny or uniformly colored. Just let’s compare it to art. Last week I bought an unshapely $5 tomato – yes one weird looking heirloom tomato. I tell you it was treated more like a jewel than a vegetable. I touched and rinsed that fruit like I was putting my little daughter to sleep – with soft touch and care.
Food sold at a remote location, whether at a farmer’s market or the local supermarket, incurs a different set of energy costs for materials and transport.
Supporting small farms and locally sourced products will have the big growing companies start rethinking, eventually. The already destroyed eco system has to be taken care of and subjects like crop rotation, chemical pesticide management and many more aggressive farming steps that force commercial growth and unnaturally high yields must be changed. It’s been making us sick – it’s like putting a sign up which reads cancer for sale nicely disguised in a vegetable wrap!
(Do I need to say more?)
Something worth mentioning - back to the future
I remember seeing a sci-fi movie where plants were grown up high into the sky and harvested by dragon like birds Avatar style. It happens to some degree already in NYC where vegetables are planted and harvested on rooftops now we just need the big birds then we’re set.