Organic or not?

From time to time we are asked about organic farming so I have tried to address the questions below.  Please feel free to contact us with any questions you have that I may not have addressed.  We’re more than happy to talk with you about our farming practices.

Here is a general outline for what is written below:

  1. What is Organic Farming
  2. Why aren’t you organic?
  3. Is natural better than synthetic?
  4. A little more about sprays
  5. Integrated Pest Management
  6. Some excellent articles I encourage you to read

When consumers are asked why they purchase organic food, the majority of them say their top reason is to avoid pesticides (Wilcox).   Unfortunately, there is a misconception about organic farming.  Organic farms use USDA approved pesticides and fungicides.  Many organic sprays are non-synthetic sprays (found naturally), but not all of them.  There are some synthetic sprays allowed (such as streptomycin which is currently approved for organic farming against fire blight, a plant disease). Certainly the majority of the sprays are non-synthetic and I believe the goal is to have all non-synthetic sprays.  But the point that I am trying to make is organic farming does not mean no sprays.

So if organic farming uses sprays, and you use sprays, why not be organic?  Well, we do use some organic sprays but at times there are things we may need to treat where organic sprays aren’t effective. Growing apples organically is incredibly difficult on the east coast due to the amount of moisture – both rain and humidity. The over-whelming majority of organic apples in the United States come from the west where the trees are grown in almost desert conditions where the air is very dry and water is placed directly on the roots and not the leaves from irrigation.  In the east, we have a much higher humidity which contributes to certain plant diseases.

Most organic sprays come from natural sources whereas conventional farming uses some synthetic sprays (made by man).  The theory behind this is that it’s safer if it’s naturally made.  But this is not always the case.  One example is Rotenone, a chemical found in the roots of certain plants.  It’s an insecticide that is far more toxic by weight than many synthetic pesticides.  For example, the EPA has established the exposure limit of Rotenone to be no more than 0.004 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day.  This means it is 25 times more toxic than Roundup which has an exposure limit of 0.1 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day. (Moyer) The point is, just because something is natural, doesn’t mean it’s non-toxic and safe.

In addition, many organic sprays have a lower level of effectiveness – meaning they break down faster.  At first, this may sound great – and certainly at times it is.  But what if the crop isn’t ready to be harvested and you have an insect problem?  That means the organic spray must be applied more frequently than the non-organic spray which means the tractors are being driven through the fields more often as well.  We actually spray less frequently than many organic farmers.

Neither farmer (organic or not) wants to use any sprays – they are quite expensive so I can assure you beyond a shadow of a doubt that we don’t spray anything unless absolutely necessary.  I used to teach high school chemistry and biology and it would always make me cringe when the biology text books would make it sound like farmers go out and basically pour bucket loads of poisons on their crops.  Folks, this is just simply not the case for ANY farmer.  If you have a choice to keep $500 in your pocket or purchase a $500 spray – what would you choose?  I pick my pocket unless there is an identified problem that we need to treat.

So what’s the answer?  The answer is for all of us to use as little spray as possible.  We do this by using other ways of treating problems – which means we use a program called Integrated Pest Management.  Crop rotation is one way to decrease the build-up of a certain pest – which is obviously easier for a vegetable farmer than a fruit farmer since our trees are in the ground for 20 years.  But we do rotate the pumpkins.  We use pheromone disruptors which are these cool little boxes we place around the orchard to disrupt the mating of problem insects.  Female insects release a chemical called a pheromone to attract the male.  The mating disruptors confuse the males so that they cannot find the females.  We use insect traps to detect if there is a problem.  If there are no problem insects in the traps there is no need to spray.  We keeps the grass cut down which reduces the number of insects.  All of these are steps we do to try and take care of the land in the most responsible way we can. And when these practices aren’t enough, we do spray if we must but as little as possible.  In addition, we follow the “time to harvest” rules for each spray – meaning we never pick fruit right after it has been sprayed.  We always wait until it is safe to eat.  And my entire family eats the apples right off the trees and the blueberries right off the bushes all the time.

So should you eat organic or non-organic?  Yes – I think the more important thing is having lots of fruits and vegetables and less processed foods.  I honestly think that’s the bigger issue.  I would also encourage you to visit your local farmer and talk about questions you may have. 

I hope I have answered some of your questions and I am happy to discuss any other questions you may have.  The following articles are excellent sources of information as well and I highly encourage you to read them:

A blog written by Christie Wilcox for Scientific American where she addresses 4 myths about organic farming. The myths are organic farms don’t use pesticides, organic foods are healthier, organic farming is better for the environment, and it’s all or none – meaning you don’t have to choose sides) 

An article written by Melinda Moyer about whether conventional fruits and vegetables are healthy for kids.