How Organic is Organic?

At least once a season I like to take a little time to explain our growing practices.  I’m always asked if we’re organic, and I have to explain that the term has become pretty confusing since the national organic standards were put in place by USDA.  Since I’m not certified by an official third-party, I cannot use the term “organic” without being subject to a fine, so I just explain a bunch of details about our practices.  I’ve found eaters are most concerned about individual practices anyway and are not too concerned that I don’t have the official USDA organic logo.

First and foremost we NEVER use any synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers.  The only bug we do control is the Colorado Potato Beetle with a natural spray with an active ingredient called Spinosad, which is a bacteria which affects the bug’s nervous system.  This spray is approved under organic certification, which, I know sounds kind of confusing, but there is a family of natural organic pesticides.  Since we don’t have much recourse for bugs, sometimes we will use a physical barriers.  We will put a row cover (kind of like a big dryer sheet) over some greens, for example, that are really susceptible to flea beetles, so the bugs just can’t get at the plants.

For fertility we use good old fashioned manure we procure from our neighbors and manure from our chickens and sheep.  Last year we had nearly 20 loads spread from my neighbor’s dairy herd besides the bedding from last year’s broilers and a good fall cleaning of the barn where the egg layers and sheep hang out.  Corn is a heavy feeder, so we sidedress the young plants with a composed chicken manure in pelletized form.  Also this year we are experimenting with using worm castings on our celery and lettuce, which are both heavy feeders but need a fertilizer which is gentle and safe.  We actually get this from one of our CSA members, Betty and Leroy Fiedler, who just started their worm composting business last year called Genesis on Lake Franklin.

For weeds, it’s a 3 stage process.  We do our best to take out as many as possible by mechanical cultivation with the tractor, next we hoe, and, we always end up pulling weeds by hand.  If a person is really good at timing stage 1 and 2, you never need to get to stage 3, but that hasn’t been the case with us so far.

Bottom line, we raise our stuff as best we can to make sure  the farm and plants are healthy which produces good food which makes your family and our own family healthy.  Let me know if there’s anything you want to know more about.

Important Note: We will have to deliver on Saturday, July 23 instead of Friday, July 22 since I have to be out of town for my other job.  Let me know if this is an issue and we’ll try to work something out.

In the box:
Strawberries: the heavy rains last week did splash dirt a bit on them, so I advise washing.
Salad Mix (see recipe below)
Swiss Chard
French Breakfast Radishes
Braising Mix (colorful greens) or Green Lance (small broccoli plants): Either are good for adding to a stir fry right at the end.
Garlic scapes (funny curly onions): these are shoots that garlic put up this time of year.  Think of them as a garlic-y green onion and use where you would garlic.

If you haven’t read Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, you may just want to check it out during this CSA season.  It’s a good read with recipes included that may help you out when stumped on how to use something in the box.  Here’s a recipe for this week on using greens:
This recipe also uses eggs…you are able to add on Lida Farm eggs through Local Dirt as they are available throughout the season!

Organic Agriculture (CSA week 4)

Things have been a bit cool lately, but I was really thankful for the rain we got this week (almost an inch). We were getting worried about moisture levels out there, but it’ll be no problem for a while. Acually, since we have such a heavy clay soil, we can get away withought rain or watering for 2-3 weeks.

I figured I’d write about organic ag this week and about certification in particular, simply because I feel like there are some real misconceptions out there and I’d like to explain where we sort out.
I think there’s a lot of confusion simply because organic has gone through some changes in the last decade, the biggest being the National Organic Program (NOP), established by the federal government throught USDA. Today, when you say Organic, it means you grow according to the NOP standards and have been certified for doing so. Unless somebody sells less than $5,00o of food, you can’t use the term organic…you could actually be fined for doing so.
Often, when I talk certification with people, they often say, “oh, doesn’t that take three years of not spraying your land?” Yes, and a whole lot of other things. When a certification agency is auditing and inspecting your farm, they want to know about all your inputs (fertilizers, insecticides, mulches, potting soil, etc.) and practices (cover cropping, cultivation, conservation measures on the farm) and they want to see record and documentation of such. So it isn’t just not spraying for three years that matters, it’s following these standards across the board and presenting an audit trail to prove it…no small matter. I’ve actully started an audit trail so we can become officially certified in a few years–even though we have only used certified inputs, I can’t prove a thing and need the records.
So, I think often people have the impression that just because somebody grows organically, that they don’t use any inputs on the farm but manure and hard work, although that is a lot of it. For insects, there are organic sprays (some think this is an oxymoron). The only insecticide we use is called Pyganic, the chief ingrediant of which is natural pyrethrum, an insecticide derived from chrysanthemums. We also use a small amount of an organic fertilizer called Renaissance. It’s actually a mix of soybean meal, feather, and bone meal. We mainly use it to sidedress the sweet corn, which is a pretty heavy feeder. Both of these are OMRI-certified, which is the agency which certifies whether a product meets the national organic standards. Otherwise, we do use a fair amount of composted manure for fertility, both from our sheep and from a neighboring turkey farm.
In the box:
Basil: please don’t refrigerate. I find it does best with a damp cloth in an opened plastic bag at room temperature
Packman Broccoli
Kohlrabi: mostly purple variety
Strawberries: kind of pathetic…getting pretty slim out there
Boston Fireball Lettuce: By far the prettiest lettuce I’ve grown…also called “bibb” or “butterhead” It’s can be a bit bitter, almost like endive…you may want to mix with the greenleaf.
Greenleaf Lettuce: variety called Marin after the county in CA. This is the end of the lettuce, so put into a plastic bag and leave in the refridgerator…it should keep up to three weeks.
“Spring” onions: one torpedo onion and one sweet.
Yellow Sebring Zucchini: see recipe below
A bit o’ mint (see recipe below)
Zucchini and Fresh Herb Fritters
from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison
(This is a real classic cookbook I would recommend for anyone)
Salt and pepper
2lbs. green or golden zucchini, grated
2 eggs, beaten
1 bunch scallions or spring onions (thinly sliced)
1 cup dried bread crumbs
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 T chopped basil
1 t chopped mint
olive oil as needed
Lightly salt zucchini and set aside in a colander to drain for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the remaining ingredients together except the oil and pepper. Quickly rinse the squash, sqeeze out the excess water, then stir into batter. Taste for salt and season with pepper.
Film two skillets with olive oil. When hot, drop in the batter-quarter cup makes a fritter about 3.5 inches across-and cook over medium heat until golden on bottom. Turn and cook other side. Serve hot…serves 4.