The 55 acre farm I’m currently living and working on is opperating upon the philosophy that food should be as natural as possible. My aunt April and uncle Bill, the farm owners, have given up the Southern California suburban crawl to live out the Tennessee life, for them a slower and healthier existence. The catalyst for the relocation according to my uncle was my cousin Caitlin.
As a result I’ve been gifted the unique opportunity of continuously working on one of America’s family owned farms from the early start-up days, when we would carry 50 lb boxes of cucumbers to the house, wash them in buckets of water and store them in a fridge bought on craiglist, to where now we use a 4 wheel drive “mule” for transporting product and clean our vegetables in an indoor processing facility.
The farm still isn’t high-tech and although Bill refuses to use pesticides and chemical fertilizers, we still cannot be coined organic. The certification process involves paying over a thousands dollars for an inspector to come from out of state and give us the golden O. Organic is now nothing more than a status symbol for many. I’ve had a friend who work on a sustainable farm go to market and have customers refuse to buy their products because they didn’t have the necessary title.
“Are you guys Organic?”
“No, because we haven’t become certified we cannot claim to be organic. We do practice sustainable agriculture, however, we don’t use chemical fertilizers or pesticides but the certification is too expensive for us to …””
“Oh,” cutting her off, “if you’re not organic then never mind.”
The title only means that someone paid the extra cash in order to raise the price of their product. To many organic means expensive and therefore not worth the buy. Farmers markets nationwide are full of food that is truly organic but without the government issued “O” and the prices that come with it. The best advice I’ve been given is to just talk to the people who make the food. At the markets almost every vendor is willing to talk about the way that they produce what they sell. Usually the issue isn’t getting them to explain how they farm, it’s getting them to shut up. If someone isn’t willing to spill the beans on their food it probably means they should be avoided.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to be talking to different farm owners and exploring what goes into to the new generation of food and why organic food can be more expensive, how it can be cheaper and ways that you can it for almost free.