I have been thinking about writing this blog post for months...since May actually. However I do not believe that you should write something that you feel very strongly about when you are frustrated or rushed and with out careful consideration. So I hope you've seated yourself in a comfy chair because this will be a long one....
We will be producing vegetables grown using Organic practices next year and while I am a bit nervous to try something new - I am excited. Some of our customers have asked for it and I am going to deliver. I have no (not even a little) hard feelings or problem with organic production...I just had to get that out before you read on....
Every week at every market I attend I get asked about my pest management program and do I spray. Am I an Organic farmer? In response I explain that I currently use the Integrated Pest Management Program and that every week I have trained scouts from Rutgers come check for the quantity of bugs and make recommendations on should I spray, options on what to use, and if there are other things I can do that can prevent the need to spray. As soon as I say, "No, I'm not Organic, but...." I've lost 90% of people. Their eyes glaze. Too many people think there is Conventional and then there is Organic...well I am here to say - wrong! As with everything in life...there are some blurred lines and when some pesticides cost $900 for 1 gallon there is no one earth just throwing that around unless it is absolutely necessary.
A fun fact for you: Pesticide applicators have to licenced by the state. I had to take a crazy test which I actually truly studied for...it was not a walk in the park!
On our farm we use OMRI approved chemicals as much as possible....these are the same chemicals that USDA Certified Organic Farms can use for pest management. When I describe this to customers I get a confused look. The look that says to me that most people have no idea that Organic farmers spray. Lets for a moment focus on that word "SPRAY"...it is the dirtiest 5 letter word in farming because it is misunderstood. That one word makes people uncomfortable...it makes them squirm and wrinkle their nose. And there's no reason for it! There is a very large Organic farm near my farm. To go with their very large farm they own a very large, very fancy sprayer with which they spray the hell out things....using OMRI approved chemicals of coarse...but still...my point is they bring the pain when needed...Organic does not mean no spray.
I have met many people who have made the commitment to only buying Organically at the Farmers' Market. They have told me that they would never buy any non-organic produce ever. Most of them are very nice, kind, sensible people but some are straight up mean. Like...honestly ugly toward me because I am not an Organic farmer.
Whether the farmer be Organic, Conventional, Bio-dynamic, Beyond Organic, All Natural, No spray, or whatever...I think it is important to take a moment to mull over what it took to bring those veggies to market. Just think about the number of hours spent planning, seeding, nurturing, transplanting, worrying, praying, stressing, spraying, picking, + packing each item on the table at a farmers' market, in the grocery store, in your CSA box or Buying Club box.
The Great Disconnect:
I have always wanted to ask an "Only Organic Shopper" but have never had the courage (mainly because I don't want them to think I'm being rude)..."So do you only drink Organic beer? Organic vodka mixed with Organic cranberry juice with a splash of Organic Club Soda? And what do you do when you eat out....because the likelihood that every part of your meal at a restaurant is Organic is very small. I don't bring this up to be the devil's advocate...I am genuinely curious because if you've made the commitment to Organic veggies but then grab a non-organic beer rest easy knowing you're enjoying a beverage that has not only been sprayed but most likely contains Genetically Modified items fresh from a several thousand acre family farm located somewhere in this great nation of ours...just sayin'.
The Polar Opposite:
You then have the people on the opposing side....(you might be saying to yourself...what the hell! about my next little story)....I recently stopped by the gorgeous old farm house of the cutest elderly couple. Their barns are no longer filled with dairy cows and their garden shrinks each year as their age grows. We got onto the subject of my future plans and I had mentioned I would be moving toward growing Organic vegetables in the coming years. As Mrs. P was handing me a jar of her famous pickled watermelon rind to take home she said, "Oh no! I wouldn't ever touch that stuff! I run right by it at grocery store"....and I laugh. At Wegmans they put the Organic Eggs closer than the non-Organic eggs...so when my Grandma calls and asks me to pick up eggs on the way home from Crossfit I run in and grab the organic eggs. And every time she yells at me and says, "I told you, I don't want those organic eggs!" I explain to her that they're so much closer to the entrance/exit then your standard egg. Eye rolls ensue.
Within agriculture it is quite segregated....sometimes it seems as if it's Conventional against Organic (and visa versa)....and the battle lines are clearly drawn. This past winter I went to a large fruit and vegetable growers convention in Hershey, PA. The speaker in one of the classes I attended paused to ask if anyone in the room was Organic. No one raised their hand. He then said, "Come on...I know there are some of you out there...We won't bite." 5 people then raised their hand and a low rumble of judging whispers went through the room. Craziness. We're all in this together...no need to hate each other!
Hugs and Thank Yous:
I get disheartened about this great Organic/Conventional Divide. And then a glimmer of hope....I was at the gym recently when a member who gets a Buying Club box each week started chatting with me about how much he loved his box last week. I told him about how another member of the gym said, "Oh all of these boxes lined up look great! I'm assuming this is all Organic (with a twinkle in her eye and a pep in her step)"
Me: No, we spray only when we need to to save a crop...I also have no spray items.
Her body language said she wasn't happy with my answer. The guy I was telling this story to said, "Really?!?....I thought it's all about buying locally...knowing your farmer."
He doesn't know it but I wanted to run over and pounce on him and smother him with hugs and thank yous!
....Because my friends that is how I feel. That's what it's about to me...supporting your local farmer who works so hard to share his/her passion with you. The benefits of buying local means that you can look your farmer in the eye, form a relationship, and get the highest quality produce....no matter if they Organic or Conventional.
I will always have a soft spot for conventional production and the people who farm that way. It is how my Dad farmed and how my Grandpop farmed. They sold to Wegmans, Campbell's Soup, and....WholeFoods. I remember saying to my Mom one day, that I thought it was weird that WholeFoods bought stuff from us. At that time (I had never been in a WholeFoods) I thought WholeFoods only sold Organic items. She corrected me and said, "It's not all Organic...it's all high quality." And that, my friends, is my goal for Robson's Farm...Not all Organic but high quality.