Last Friday, August 23, 2013, an article was published in the Carroll County Times under the title, “Cultivating Discussion: Conventional, organic farmers debate which method is healthier”. I was interviewed for the article the day before, and unfortunately, not much of my portion of the interview appeared in print… and this upset quite a few of my customers. I will relay here my thoughts on that “discussion”. The article can be found at this link: http://www.carrollcountytimes.com/news/local/conventional-organic-farmers-debate-which-method-is-healthier/article_b7333f3f-0e30-5594-b50c-2829fcaa2848.html
I would like to pause before starting this by stating that it seems quite clear to me that I was a bit of an “after thought” for the discussion announced. The reason that most of my interview was not included was because it was “last minute”. My intention is not to “bash” the article by any means, but rather to fill in the gaps, if you will, to relay the organic approach to things.
The first part of the article covers Baugher’s approach to growing sweet corn. For those unfamiliar with Baughers, they are a large scale fruit and vegetable farm not too far from my own farm that is definitely on the conventional side of farming. As the article mentions, they spray their corn with a pyrethroid in order to prevent corn ear worms from eating the tips of the ripe corn. The statement in the article relayed that by not spraying each and every corn ear, there would be worms in the corn and who would buy that?
The loyal customers that approached my stand at the Downtown Westminster Farmer’s Market last Saturday morning were particularly outraged at that part of the article. And it is at that point in the article that the great difference between organic and conventional farming first appears, that is, paragraphs one through three. (At least we did not need to wait long for that difference to be relayed!) The issue here is that from the organic point of view, chemicals are harmful! From the conventional point of view, spraying is required to prevent unsightly pests. There is a tremendous gap between these two thought processes, and, I assert that because of this disparity, there is no debate here at all… but allow me to elucidate…
Chemicals are manmade substances that have only been in existence for the past one hundred years or so. For the most part, they are poisons, that is harmful. In the conventional approach, the fact that poisons are sprayed on the food we eat is not seen as harmful, and A LOT of energy, time and expense has gone into attempting to either prove that or cloud that harmful part from reality. I will come back to this a little later.
Okay, now for the ear worms. Yes, corn ear worms love to eat the tips of sweet corn. They hide under the husk, so there is virtually no way of knowing if an ear of corn has ear worms or not. As a result, the conventional approach is to spray each and every ear of corn with poison so as to rid that eventual food from ear worm damage. Again, the conventional approach sees nothing wrong with this. The important thing is not to have a customer husk the corn and find a worm! Egads! But that would be horrible!
The organic approach is very far removed from that thought process. Chemicals are viewed as what they are… POISONS! If a plant is sprayed with poison, that poison just doesn’t disappear. It is still on the plant, and the residue can end up in the food, in the soil for future food, etc. And what does that poison do? Why it kills, and while it is true that it may take a long time to kill a human, the organic approach takes the stand that we would rather not find out how long it takes… because using chemicals is not necessary! If there is a worm on one’s ear of corn, just cut it off! How hard is that? And yet, the conventional side has determined that spraying poison is the best approach.
In paragraph four, the article states that the conventional farm uses “Integrated Pest Management”. I am not even going to get into that here. I will need an entire entry to address that… nonsense. And yet, it is the latest craze in agriculture… Ugh. Suffice it to say that if you spray chemicals, you spray chemicals. Don’t try to sugar coat it!
Then, the conventional farmer states that he does not know how an organic farmer could grow on a large scale in this region due to pest populations and humidity. Now I have personally learned a lot about this topic this year, mostly through Lori who helps me at the farm. She just moved here from Western New York, where they do not have the pests that we do. They can grow beans without the relentless assault of Mexican bean beetles! So, it is true that this region is difficult to grow organically by comparison to other regions. Yet, I have been able to do so for well over ten years now. The question, however, was whether it is possible to grow organically on a large-scale farm. This is actually addressed to me directly later in the article, so I will get back to this…
Then, an agricultural extension agent enters the article because he is an “expert”. He quickly states that organic farming is only slightly beneficial and uses the same naïve statement I have heard on countless occasions that the world cannot be fed through organic farming alone. It really does make one cringe to think that such a person is considered an “expert”! The world has been fed organically for all of human existence up until the past one hundred years! What nonsense to think that it cannot continue to do so!
UGH! By that point in the article it was quite clear that conventional and organic farming speak two entirely different languages. One side does not view poisons as harmful, the other does. One side thinks in large scale models… perhaps I have gotten ahead of myself here…
Next up for the article was the mention of the 2012 Stanford review on whether organic food was more beneficial than conventional. The review stated that it was not. The conventional side loves to mention this review… and this review alone. There are numerous other reviews that show just the opposite results, but apparently… Anyway, the 2012 Stanford review is not taken as a serious review by many experts in the field, due to a limited scope of focus that does not allow for a wider determination of health. The approach of the review was obviously stacked against finding organic food to be healthier, but, nonetheless, the conventional side has its prized scientific review!
AND THEN, I am mentioned in the article! Going through the rest of the article will be eschewed at this point, because the points I attempted to make were missed, at least in part. (Click the link above to read the actual article.)
One of my main points has always been that historically organic has always been the method of farming. It is only the last hundred years that farming has been diabolically altered. (Yes, that is my opinion.) The article kind of missed what I said, but it went like this. I remember walking the grounds of the Battle of Gettysburg, and on the second day of that fateful battle, part of the skirmish took place in the peach orchard. My statement was that if a peach ORCHARD existed 150 years ago… in OUR region, they obviously had to have harvested peaches from them. It is only our modern chemical bias that states that growing peaches is impossible organically in this region. History says otherwise!
But here I would like to make the break in this entry. For too long, we organic farmers and consumers have had to live up to the conventional ideal, which is neither “ideal” nor “factual”. What is factual is that conventional and organic are two extremely different approaches to farming that have their own unique languages. I for one have decided to stop attempting to translate organic farming into conventional language. It does not fit. Allow me to provide some examples.
Is organic food healthier than conventional? Absolutely. There is no chemical residue in organic food for one, and there is no need to go further. Chemicals are poisons. Poisons are harmful. A couple of times in the article it was stated that chemicals were only used to “safe” levels. Absurd. NO LEVEL OF CHEMICAL USE IS SAFE. To believe otherwise further reflects the difference between the sides and how one language cannot unite the two.
Can organic farming feed the world? This is yet another absurdity. The conventional approach thinks of massive farms of corn and soybeans processed into all kinds of fake food, shipped around the world as what it takes to feed that world. It is a completely different language. The organic approach CAN be large scale, so long as that large scale goes directly to the immediate community. We don’t need to feed the world. We need to feed our community. Communities around the world need to feed their own communities. Again, we speak very different languages.
Organic farming is expensive! What is the value of health (that is REAL HEALTH and not something contrived like the 2012 Stanford review)? How expensive are the negative environmental effects of conventional farming? Two different languages.
I could go on, and perhaps I will one day, but for now this is enough. In summation, there is no “debate” over the health of organic food. Either one gets the benefits of organic food consumption, or one believes that chemicals are not harmful. And I am fine with leaving the conventional side to think as they may. I simply refuse from now on to attempt to justify my organic farming practice through their language.
Organic heirloom tomato anyone?