Friday, June 29, 2012
Are you organic?
In the morning, when the dew is still on the leaves of the zucchini and cucumber vines, and the little hairs on the tomato plants glisten, the lettuce gets picked, along with the Swiss chard, parsley, basil and while the flowers await patiently their fate of being bound together and settled into a half-gallon jar - it never occurs to me that we aren't organic.
Packed for the area's only local growers' only market, these are the fruits of our labor. Time, energy, water, all of these a careful diligence that extends over the few acres of land we put to good use here on Hope Farms.
At the market today, a customer (or not - she didn't buy anything) asked if we were organic. As I said "No," apologetically, I wondered why I felt the need to carry a 25 pound sack of potential guilt for not being certified organic.
I did offer, humbly, "we use no chemicals, ever" but it felt like a moot point.
She distantly viewed the produce on the table as though it were not good enough. Then she made her way over to another vendor without saying anything else.
For some other reason, as the day wore on, it nagged at me even more. Did she not purchase anything because we aren't certified organic? Does she know what the paperwork is like, the initial certification cost amounts or yearly audit expenses are like?
One figure I've seen for initial certification is $750. For the year. Yes, I said for the year.
Let's see; 2 dozen eggs per week at $3.50/dozen = $7.00 x 52 = $364 yet, the "organic" feed it takes to make a dozen eggs (roughly four pounds per dozen) is about $25 for 50 pounds. So, four pounds would cost roughly $8. Organic feed costs at $8/dozen x 52 dozen = $416 so right off the bat I'd have to charge more for my eggs, and then; would anyone buy them? And this doesn't account for the cost of becoming certified.
And that's just an example of eggs. Never mind the squash or onions, let alone the eggplant or tomatoes and the trials and tribulations that come with attempting to grow these things without using chemicals to ward off unwelcome guests and uninvited pests.
Living in a (rural) tier one county has it's pros and cons, for certain. The untouched beauty and majestic mountains that surround us are unmatched, but the job situation is scarce. I'm educated, hardworking, reliable and although I have looked and told everyone I knew I was unsuccessful at finding a job in Montgomery County with the exception of some part-time temporary work, for which I was most grateful, but it was.....temporary.
Why am I trudging through this diatribe? It's not that I'm against "Organic" in any sense of the word. But what I do take issue with is the idea that my husbands and my hard work, steadfast resolve to not use chemicals to control pests, and constant tending to the garden, livestock and poultry on this small-timey farm isn't enough for a customer - without the "label."
Please, don't get me wrong (and if you do, that's okay, too) but....this farm does not support itself (yet!). I have provided, on more than one occasion, income and expense receipts to those-that-shall-remain-un-named and at the end of the informational session, their question was this: Why do you do this if it isn't always profitable?
The reasons are many, here are just a few:
We raise livestock, poultry and garden for our family. We want to remain connected to our food and understand that eating whole, unadulterated foods is on of the best ways to sustain our health.
Without launching into a complex monologue about the mistreatment of animals far and wide within commercial agriculture suffice it say that our animals are given as close to a natural habitat and routine as possible, on small acreage, with humane treatment no matter the situation and if you think that's not important, look at the long- and short-term scientific evidence between humanely raised animals and CAFO's or commercial egg-laying operations. It only takes a few seconds of the videos widely available on the internet to figure out that a happy animal is healthy, and that means the world to us.
Kind of like money, if we don't have it, we don't spend it. So in that regard, if we are out of chicken, we substitute eggplant, or zucchini, or canned potatoes, pinto beans, chili, vegetable soup, or if we're lucky, there's a few pints of canned chicken breast in the canning room from last year. It takes planning, patience, perseverance and pints upon pints of canning jars to sustain our own food supply.
Use what you've got - kinda like the school of hard knocks - doing without can teach a whole new perspective of humility.
Eating in season is difficult and can be maddening due to crop failures, invasion of beetles, bugs, and other insects that can cause havoc with a garden. There is something entirely rewarding, however, in being able to make an entire supper of what has been grown on the farm.
To sum up the seemingly wandering statements above, we do what we do for our family, for our neighbors, friends, and relatives and what is sometimes in more abundance than we need - we take it to the market. A few dollars here and a few dollars there go toward purchasing another bag of feed, towards the water bill, towards the seeds that will bring us homegrown goodness next year, and for the supplies it takes to preserve the harvest of our not-so-organic garden and homestead. In a sense, we share.
I have often said that the meaning of life is to share, to give and in return, not just for the sake of being rewarded, is the greatest blessing. See Luke 6:38
At the end of the day today, a good friend and kindred spirit and I were talking about the day. As she had gifted me with some of her own home-made goodness, I also ushered her over to the table to pick out whatever she wanted to take home with her. She balked, relaying that it was hard for her to receive and as I reminded her that it was the same for me, we laughed.
"Don't cause a traffic jam in "Blessing-Ville, now," I said - understanding fully the blessing truly is in the gift of giving. In a sense, when you don't accept a gift from someone else, you are stopping, or rejecting, their blessing - that goodness of being able to share. We laughed at the seeming oddity of it; accepting is really giving.
Organic or not, our farm is wholesome, sometimes frustratingly hard to keep up with, but we love what we do. Good food, good friends, and whether or not we'll ever be certified remains to be seen.
There's a 25 pound bag of guilt in the baggage claim with no name on it.
It's going around in circles. Let it be.