I just returned from a blissful week in Kauai! The beaches were beautiful but the plant life was amazing! Coffee plantations, cocoa plantations, tropical orchards, reclaimed cane fields and lush state parks - so many things to see. I even found my perfect golf course - a mini golf course that wound through a tropical botanical garden!
On this tiny paradise, you can go to a different farmer's market every day of the week! And it wasn't just pineapple, papaya and coconuts...fresh greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, carrots, sweet potatoes and beets could all be found. Restaurants proudly listed the farmers that produced their food on their menus. What an amazing farming and food culture.
On Monday, I bravely took the boys into Twin to refill our refrigerator at the grocery store. While I have access to wonderful food from these stores, it just isn't the same as shopping in a farmer's market. This time of year I long to be able to walk out into a garden and pick fresh produce that hasn't been stored or shipped hundreds of miles. We are blessed to live in beautiful Idaho, but it does have some challenges for year-round gardening. My solution is preserving the harvest. This week I have pulled canned beans, pickled beets, frozen corn, applesauce, salsa and canned tomatoes from the pantry to put nutritious meals on the table. While it isn't "fresh", I know exactly what ingredients went into each jar and that each vegetable was picked at its peak.
Ask us about canning shares and what vegetables we recommend that can get you started. Canning can be intimidating at first glance with all of the warnings of food borne illness. I grew up canning with my mom and had a pretty good handle on the basics. But, I still took a class! My good friend, Grace, teaches food preservation classes through the University of Idaho that gives you all of the details as well as a hands-on experience. Her next class is in May....
There are countless blogs on the internet written by farmers and farmer’s wives about why or why not they are organic. Here is OUR blog on the topic.
In my limited experience over the last year, the organic question is asked even more often when you are marketing fresh locally grown produce versus growing agricultural commodities in the Magic Valley. We are asked often “Are you organic?” or sometimes it is assumed “It is so great that there are organic producers leading the way in our area!” Either way, it opens a conversation that I am more than willing to have.
No. We are not certified organic. The answer could be as simple as we are organic producers we simply don’t complete the documentation and go through the inspections to get the stamp for our produce. It is not that simple.
My response brings on one of two responses: 1) “Good for you!” or 2) “Oh, well I really feel that organic produce is better.” These responses bring a variety of thoughts to mind. The first – “Have you personally been hurt by an organic producer?” “Why the excitement to assume the last few decades of agriculture should be the status quo?” The second – “Nutritionally?” “Environmentally?” “Because of the news?” Either way, I think “Why the bias?”
Let’s talk The Country Gardens philosophy. To us, it boils down to a couple issues: The Chemicals, Our Natural Resources and GMO’s.
1. The Chemicals
It is a complicated issue that can’t be simplified as good guy vs bad guy, organic pesticide vs synthetic pesticide. A pesticide, organic or synthetic, by definition is meant to kill or disrupt an organism’s lifecycle – they are all bad guys! That doesn’t mean that pesticides don’t have a purpose in agricultural production.
Don’t make your decision to buy organic because they don’t use pesticides. Organic pesticides can be and are used in organic production. Organic pest control is an industry by itself and the major chemical companies are bigger players than you would think. Don’t also assume that organic pesticides are safe: nature holds the power to poison, mutate and kill. On the flip side, don’t assume that synthetic pesticides are safe or unsafe.
OUR PHILOSOPHY ON PESTICIDES: Using any pesticide limits our ability to safely work and let our children play in the gardens. However there are instances when, even with other preventative measures, pests exceed limits and we risk losing current and future crops. In these cases, we do use the best pesticide based on current scientific knowledge to control issues in our gardens. While we do look at organic pesticides, we are not philosophically opposed to using a synthetic pesticide if it is the best tool for a specific circumstance.
All pesticide applications (organic or synthetic) will always be disclosed to our members. This is one of the many benefits of being a CSA member – you know the production practices that are used to grow your food!
2. Our Natural Resources
I haven’t met a single farmer with the goal of destroying the environment and putting themselves out of a job! I can only think of a few other professions that work day in and day out with the land. Most farmers have invested decades of their lives in a single piece of land (big or small). Their land is their most expensive and greatest asset.
Each individual grower’s production practices are a result of so many factors: available equipment, government program enrollment, personal philosophies, market availability, previous owner’s decisions, labor issues, crop contracts, financial considerations…
The number of combinations is limitless in how you manage a piece of land. The pros and cons are also limitless. Each management decision has an effect on future decisions – some seen in the same growing season or some a decade or more down the road. It is impossible to discuss these in such a brief forum and I am by no means an expert that will pretend to understand the repercussions of each decision.
OUR PHILOSOPHY ON NATURAL RESOURCES: Our gardens allow us to build a business doing something we love. Our management of these resources will affect how successful we are today and in the future. We truly believe that nutritional quality of produce is not a direct factor of organic vs non-organic production but is a reflection of soil nutrition and health. Tillage can have some negative impacts on the soil but is necessary for other crops. Cover crops are great ways to build soil but can increase weed issues in the garden. Compost can build the structure and fertility of our soils but can also be slow to provide benefits. Fertilizers can be a seasonal solution that increases plant vigor and prevents damage caused by diseases and pests.
Management of natural resources is a balancing act and it is also an active pursuit. We have interrupted nature’s balance to produce food for our family and yours. We will forever be involved in amending, controlling and balancing while we are in production on this small patch of land. Another benefit of being a CSA member – come and see exactly what is happening around your vegetables as they grow. Enjoy the sunshine and pull a few weeds while you are here!
You are talking to 2 women who have worked in public and private plant breeding programs. We have been involved in the research and even planted and harvested GMO crops! It isn’t all science fiction and frankenplants. Are they good, bad or necessary? I think it depends on each individual situation.
I have sat in a boardroom with some of the best minds in agriculture and discussed the challenges we anticipate agriculture encountering in 10, 20 and 50 years. Reality is that GMO’s are not all about chemical resistant plants (Roundup Ready) or insect protection (Bt). Droughts, disease, soil salinity and limited nutrient resources are serious issues that our current crop varieties are not going to overcome. Traditional methods may get us where we need to be but I’m not going to ignore the technology that has the potential to get us the better answer sooner. Most of us wouldn’t trade our cell phone for a land line, our car for a horse and wagon or our vaccinations for blood letting.
OUR PHILOSOPHY ON GMOS: We can’t embrace a production system that removes a technology that has the potential for reducing water use, improving nutrient utilization or preventing disease. Our husband’s farms do grow GMO crops and this technology has allowed them to limit pesticide use and incorporate more cover crops into their rotations – both organically minded pursuits.
Reality – most garden crops do not have GMO varieties commercially available and not in the small quantities that we grow in our CSA.
Confused where we stand? I have given you our philosophy but what is the answer bottom line in regards to organic production at The Country Gardens?
In 2015, we were 95% organic within the bounds of the gardens. Why weren’t we 100%?
What is our plan for 2016? Continue on the same path. Our weed populations are dropping and we will be expanding the use of mulch because of the benefits we observed in 2015. Pray that this cold weather is dramatically decreasing vole populations!
Traditional and organic producers have often placed themselves as enemies rather than as farmers with a common goal of producing nutritious food for the consumer. Maybe we are able to see a slightly clearer picture of both sides because we are wives of farmers who fall on the traditional side while we lean more toward the organic side in our gardens. Traditional and organic are not mutually exclusive – both have tools that are beneficial.
More than anything, we want our members to understand where their produce comes from and we want the public to understand how food is produced. Read, ask and think about agricultural production. You are surrounded by it in the Magic Valley. Find a farmer and chat. Even if you grew up in Twin Falls, you might be surprised at the issues that are worrying farmers in 2016 and you might come away with a better understanding of exactly what is happening in the field.
A Side Note:
Remember that the “Organic” label is administered by the federal government. Definitions, exemptions and guidelines are all available for the public online. We encourage everyone to read and understand about labels on their food!