One of our major undertakings this year besides building this deep winter greenhouse and root cellar has been going through organic certification. This is a process where we lay out for a third-party certification agency (ours is OCIA) lots of details about how we farm and exactly what inputs and materials (fertilizers, seeds, etc) we use to produce crops for the last three years. Certification is pretty much the only way to obtain the label and right to the term organic. Together with this paperwork we get inspected by that agency to make sure we are doing what we say we are doing and make sure that our inputs fit organic standards.
This sound simple enough, but what I realized is that how we grow is very complex. Staff at OCIA said that most people’s paperwork comes in at about 25 pages, ours was 110 pages. This is due to the large number of types of crops and how we handle each one. For example, we grew 393 different seed varieties in the past three years and have nearly 75 vegetable beds, many of which we treat quite differently due to the different crops grown in each. An organic row crop farm may have 4 or 5 seeds and treat an entire 40 acre field the same.
All told, however, I feel really good about finally coming around to certifying. After thinking about certifying for many years, I realized this is still the best way to assure you and all others that we take organic production very seriously and grow with integrity. No longer do I have to yammer for 5 minutes about each of our farm practices when asked if our stuff is organic at a farmers market. It’s the real deal. Receiving this official certificate in the mail this week, I felt quite proud.
Many think that organic farmers like us live an idyllic life, watching over sheep in fields at sunset and waxing poetic about whole grains and our stewardship of earth. Although we have done these things, this week certainly didn’t give us moments of ponder and relaxation. Instead, I was thinking that this may have been one of the most stressful weeks of farming ever.
A few overlapping projects and circumstances came together to make this a week to remember. The primary stress was the weather, as I’m sure you may have experienced yourself. We received hail not once, but twice this week,, both Monday and Thursday. The biggest issue, however, was the 4 inches of rain which poured out of the sky in two hours. Thursday morning I woke up at 3:30 to close up the high tunnel so it didn’t blow away, spent an hour sopping up water in the basement with a sponge, pulled the battery on our van since it rained so much in the open windows that the horn was stuck in the “on” position, and saw that the north wall of the barn collapsed on my way out to my dayjob at seven. Whoa!
The rain also bowed out the bottom of the greenhouse we’re constructing and put a small lake in our front field, putting under water the carrots we planned on harvesting and once again drowned the potatoes which should have gone in the box this week. This all happened under the backdrop of starting delivery to the new food hub in Fergus Falls on Wednesday, getting a new batch of chicks, all the usual harvesting and produce orders, and greenhouse construction in our spare time (which this week entailed a form a prison labor shoveling rock).
Man, I’m getting tired, but at least this espresso is kicking in and the sun is shining. I know it’s going to be alright and we’ll press right on through these challenges, the farm season, and all our projects just fine.