Thursday, August 18, 2011


                “Fresh”. Ah, there is nothing like “fresh” produce… But then again, what is “fresh” produce? More specifically, when produce is labeled “fresh”, what exactly does that mean?

                For those familiar with the continuing debacle over word usage in advertising produce, I apologize, but nonetheless, bear with this entry for a bit, for the debacle over verbiage is the very heart of the matter!

                The reason behind the term “fresh” as the title for this entry is that the terms “organic” and “local” have already been commandeered by the government. That statement will surely make some heads shake over that despicable entity, known as the “government”. Nonetheless, this entry comes from the heart of a farmer, and more specifically an organic farmer, that is, one that deals daily with REALITY and not IDEOLOGY. There is quite a huge difference between those two approaches: the former deals with integrity, the latter with belief. In respect to the “laissez-faire” ideology, at least in the 21st century situation of agriculture, it is a contradiction. While it would be quite “idyllic” to have no government intrusion in the realm of agriculture, in our current situation, that is quite a naïve… belief. Unfortunately, commerce dictates agriculture, and integrity, as a result, is a rare, very rare occurrence. As a result, agriculture is monitored by government agencies, and as such, is as convoluted as any other form of enterprise monitored by government agencies. Inevitably it is a contradiction, AND very far removed from any realm of “idyllia”. But the point of this entry is not to envision or “push forward” any form that “idyllia” may take. Enough of the interlude. Let’s start with “organic”…

                When I first was “certified organic” back in 2001, with the intention, that still exists, to provide “organic” produce to Carroll County, that is, the county in which I farm, I was met with little respect in regards to my “integrity” at that time. The reason behind that was that there was a local “organic” farm not far from my farm that was anything but “organic”. In my own naivety at the time, I thought that an “organic” approach, rather than that of constant pesticides, herbicides, etc. might be appreciated…, at least to some degree. What I quickly learned was that a “faux” farm that called themselves “organic” lie less than three miles from me, and their actions caused all local denizens aware of those actions to scoff at the term “organic”. At that time, the term “organic” had not been commandeered by the government. And what I discovered about that “faux” farm absolutely devastated me, that is in regard to the integrity of the actual “organic” farming practice. The “faux” farm travelled to D.C. to sell their “organic” produce, and it was well known in this area that they supplemented, if not completely “commandeered” their “organic” produce from the local market shelves of cheap conventional produce! With such a devious example, who would care about “organic”?

                But that example is exactly why the “National Organic Program” (NOP) was put into effect. At that point, the government commandeered the term “organic”, and if that term would be used in the future, the entity using the “organic” term would have to “certified” under the NOP standards. (To explain a little here, before the NOP was introduced, there were hundreds of individual organic certifying agencies. I was certified by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, which remains current. The NOP created guidelines that all of the organic certifiers needed to adhere to, thus making it a legitimate regulatory force.) As a result, there are no more random assertions of “organic” products. If a product is “organic” now, it will be accompanied by either the NOP stamp or the certifying agent accredited by the NOP.

                Phew! That sounds like a lot of bureaucracy, but in reality, it should act as an alleviating source one can depend upon. I will definitely grant that there are still issues involved with the NOP regulations, and most specifically on how animals are allowed to be raised in “caged” situations, but nonetheless, what has resulted from the “commandeering” of the term “organic”, at least from my perspective, is a very good thing. At least now, if someone declares themselves to be “organic”, you, as a consumer, can say, “Prove it!” The proof is in the certification, which requires detailed data collection that records every part of a farm’s operation, so that, in respect to a… tomato, for example, the source of that tomato can be traced back to where the seed for the plant originated, how that seed was planted, what type of soil/amendments in which that sprouted seed grew, when the eventual tomato fruit was harvested, AND where that tomato was eventually sold or distributed. Some may think of that process as a logistical nightmare, but for a scientific mind, it is merely data keeping, that is, a means of essentially learning from the process. Nonetheless, the main reason behind such data keeping is accountability. If something negative should occur from eating, say that tomato discussed above, everything involved in the growing of that tomato is readily accessible to be traced for where that tomato went afoul. Instead of finding out about some, say, beef recall, on the news, then listen a week later to find out they narrowed the source down to a dozen states, which diminishes to three state by a month’s time, all “organic” produce, which includes meats, are absolutely traceable through the record keeping. To my mind, it is a 21st century approach to farming. Ah, but the greedy have no time for such record keeping! Laissez-faire! Bah…

                Now that is how the government intrusion evolved on the term “organic”. Of more recent times, the term “local” became an issue. This was mostly an issue that revolved around the sporadic road side farm stands that offer everything…(and I jest with everything, for you may never find salad mix at such a road side stand, but that is exactly part of this issue) from corn to cantaloupe to tomatoes to watermelon, at times when they are never even close to being ripe in a particular growing region. Such road side stands have been a target of my aggression for years, and I have vociferated over such fictitious “farming” practices endlessly. And now, it seems, the government has tuned into not only my own frustration, for I am a rather late-comer in regards to agricultural integrity, but to the actual “local” farmer’s situation as well.

                As I have described in previous entries, for the most part those “local” road side stands consist of “faux” farmers. There is a HUGE produce depot in Jessup where most of the produce found on supermarket shelves, on restaurant plates, etc., is originally transported into the area. Everything sold there is sold in bulk, and very cheaply as well. The produce can originate from Florida to California to Peru to China. This is produce marketing BIG AGRICULTURE style. And, if you have the money, and a means to haul such bulk produce, it is available for you to put in the back of your pick-up or box truck, and drive to some road side in the beautiful state of Maryland, and sell out of the back of said vehicle all those beautiful tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe and corn, that are not even close to harvest time in the beautiful Maryland region. (Of course, those “faux” farmers also sell that bulk produce when the above mentioned produce is ripe in Maryland fields, but I digress.) For the most part, random people driving by have no idea how that produce is obtained, and to be fair, the great majority wouldn’t even care if they found out. Nonetheless, such a situation “appears” to be that of a hard working farmer taking his farm raised produce to the road side to make a couple of bucks. I sincerely doubt that any such “faux” farmer would readily admit where that produce was originally purchased!

                Now all that described above, I guess, is in some way legitimate, that is, acceptable capitalistic practices. However, all of this ceases to be acceptable, in fact severs the cord to the life force of reality, once those signs are placed along the roadside along which that “faux” farm situation rests that read, “LOCAL PRODUCE”. I often felt like pulling over at those road side stands, crying out “Li-ar!” like Carol Kane’s character in “The Princess Bride”, only with a male voice of course, and attacking those imposters in Three Stooges’ fashion all the way to “smacking off their nose” backed by the retort, “Oh, wise guy!” But I never did, and all of that is in the past, which is a very good thing.

                What happened? Government intruded… yet again!  This time the intrusion was specifically targeted toward the false advertising claim of “LOCAL PRODUCE”, after all, how “local” is Peru? This all arose, actually it came to a head last year, but it arose because of the rising interest in actual “local” produce. How can a local farm compete against a retailer who sells foreign products at cheap prices all the while advertising that is “local”? This is yet another example of necessary government intrusion to my mind, and laissez-faire be damned! It is one thing to compete, and quite another to do so “honestly”.

And so, the government commandeered the term “Local”. In this case, instead of defining that term or administering a list of guidelines to meet in order to be “local”, a less intense approach was taken. It was decided to let the consumer decide whether the produce is “local” or not, nonetheless, the retailer, or actual farmer for that matter, must relay to the consumer exactly where that produce originated. (And all of that just to keep things honest! Sheesh!)

As a result of that last government intrusion, what I witnessed this spring while passing those road side stands made me chuckle. No longer were the signs stating “LOCAL PRODUCE” posted before those “faux” farm stands. Instead, the signs read “FRESH PRODUCE”. Now just what does “fresh” mean?

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