USDA color sealFrom the beginning, our farm has followed the principals and practices of organic agriculture. This underlying concept has a big impact on the farm and beyond: including the amount of work it takes to grow your food, the cost incurred to grow your food, the quality of your food, and farming’s impact on the land and water around us.

Seldom do I get asked questions regarding our farming practices. I believe this is a combination of our members simply trusting what we are doing (thanks!), and the lack of an opportunity for members to inquire. So I will use this space now and then to disseminate “why organic” from this Farmer’s perspective.

My formal training was in chemical agriculture from the University of Wisconsin and I spent years as an agronomist promoting this style of agriculture. My more distant background was growing up on a farm in southern Wisconsin which transitioned from organic to chemical agriculture. Everyone was organic in those days (although the word was not used) and almost everyone transitioned to chemicals. Then, for a period of my life, I was exposed to the politics of agriculture. Put this background together and you are sure to go organic!

I refer to non-organic agriculture as chemical agriculture because that farming system is absolutely 100% dependent on the application of pesticides, including pesticides used to kill weeds, insects and diseases. Take those chemicals away and the system absolutely implodes. Contrast this to modern organic agriculture which employs a multitude of practices to avoid the use of chemicals. To put it another way, if you take the few organic approved chemicals away, our farm would not implode; you would continue to get food. And in fact, there are materials we once used that are no longer available, but we do without just fine. Chemical agriculture is dependent on chemicals, whereas organic agriculture is dependent on farm management practices.

So what is the big picture impact, organic versus chemical? Well the list is quit long and as independent scientists begin to catch up with reality, the list gets longer. Let’s start with agricultural chemical contamination of your drinking water; a very well documented fact here in southern Wisconsin. What is more important to the human body than clean water to drink? In my mind, that’s ENOUGH. What other motivation is needed to take action, and so we have taken action here at Vermont Valley Community Farm, and so have you by joining us: you are eating organic. Of course, clean water is critical to other creatures and ecosystems as well.

Organic is the elimination of unnecessary contamination of water and soil and the unnecessary consumption of agricultural chemicals by you as you eat your food: and I emphasis “unnecessary”. The world was raised on organic agriculture; pollution agriculture is a recent phenomenon. The public debate on what agricultural chemical is ok to eat or drink strikes me as ludicrous; it is unnecessary.

Vermont Valley lettuceSo what are the practical implications for you the CSA member? Long time members can verify the quality of the produce we grow. Good quality organic produce is not “buggy”, rotten or dirty. We work very hard to give you clean, beautiful, healthy and delicious produce. However, on occasion, something gets through to you that we have tried the cull out. For example, a member recently contacted us about a worm in their lettuce head; they were very concerned. We work hard so such meetings do not occur, but that work does NOT include spraying our lettuce with a broad spectrum insecticide to kill an occasional bug. Our lettuce is just lettuce; and in fact lettuce rarely gets any hitchhikers’; we were surprised by this. However, hitchhikers are an issue with broccoli, cabbage and sweet corn. So we monitor those crops and, if warranted, apply a biological insecticide to keep the hitchhikers home on the farm. The use of an organic approved pesticide is a last resort, not a standard operating procedure on this farm. Even though organic approved pesticides are largely benign compared to most pesticides, I still do not like them. I treat them with a bit of disdain, but I will succumb to using them if the impact is too severe without them.

We get lots of great member stories. One of our favorites is the response of a member’s daughter to green worms they got in a broccoli head. The daughter was so excited with the unexpected surprise; she made a home for them and raised them as pets. That was quite the lesson in how important perspective is. I hope I can have the same perspective when I encounter something unexpected. We will continue to keep your surprises to a minimum, but an occasional surprise is part of our efforts to minimize any use of any chemicals on your food.

Your Organic Farmer

David Perkins