By Laurie Caswell Burke
September was National Organic Harvest Month – a perfect time to celebrate the bounty that we have been enjoying from the harvest, whether it comes from your local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), the farmers market, your own garden, or your local market. It seemed the best way to recognize this important event would be to share some facts and hear what some of our local farmers, business owners, and non-profit leaders had to say about organic farming.
There are more than 10,000 organic farms in the United States and over 1,000 CSA programs (while 10 years ago, there were zero). U.S. sales of organic foods have grown between 20-25 percent annually for the last seven years, with overall sales between $3.5 and $4.2 billion. A generation ago, three-quarters of the meals consumed in the US were made at home. Today, three quarters of meals are prepared outside the home, mainly at fast-food restaurants – the final state in a vast system of mass production.
I turned to a handful of folks to better inform you on organic food, including Executive Director of Northeast Organic Farmers Association of Vermont (NOFA) Enid Wonnacott, Shelburne Farms Market Gardener Josh Carter, Stony Loam Farmer Dave Quickel, Shelburne Vineyard owner Ken Albert, Farmers to You owner Greg Georgaklis, and finally 10-year-old Duncan MacKenzie who clearly appreciates organic. These folks generously shared their thoughts on the importance of organic and some of the challenges as well.
Enid Wonnacott shares, “Vermont is currently leading the country in per capita consumption of local, organic food, acres in certified organic production, and markets to purchase organic food directly from farmers. For National Organic Month, we celebrate the 575 plus organic farmers and processors in Vermont that made it possible for us to know our farmers and appreciate the fact that in Vermont, you don’t have to choose – you can eat local and organic.” (www.nofavt.org/why-organic)
Josh Carter says, “Organic is in line with our ethic of stewardship; it’s about taking care of the soil, water, plants, and people. School field trips and summer camps are a big part of Shelburne Farms educational work. Growing organically means that kids can come and pull a carrot, pick a tomato, or harvest kale straight from our garden beds, and we know that the food is safe for them to eat and touch.” (www.shelburnefarms.org)
Dave Quickel remarks, “We’re organic because it makes sense. Organic farming is about building healthy soil, which is done through cover cropping, primarily, and makes for healthy plants. Healthy plants not only produce the most nutritious and delicious food, they are much better suited for fighting off disease and insect problems. We raise crops on any particular field for two years and then seed clover, oats, or rye, which we allow to grow and rebuild the soil. Twice a summer, we mow these fields and leave the trimmings on the land, which builds organic mater. And this is the building block that makes it all work.” (www.stonyloamfarm.com)
Greg Georgaklis states, “For families committed to health and well-being for themselves and the earth, the lowest common denominator is sourcing their food from people they know and trust, locally and organically as much as possible. Know who is feeding your family and know how they in turn are caring for their land, animals, and family. Don’t delegate your food security to anyone else! (www.farmerstoyou.com)
Ten-year-old Duncan MacKenzie of Shelburne commented that Stony Loam’s homemade fries tasted like McDonalds without the salt. He clearly liked them a lot better because they were organic!
Ken Albert explains some of the challenges in growing grapes organically: “We tried for a number of years to be organically certified. Each year, grapevines had more and more problems. We switched to a sustainably-based management system, and our vines returned to robust health. We concluded that, at least in our area, it’s just too humid to grow purely organic grapes on a commercial scale. However, we still use many of the organic pest-control substances but had to add some non-organic controls – particularly controls for mildew.” (www.shelburnevineyard.com)
Thank you to the folks who shared their thoughts on organic food. We have a great deal to be proud of in Vermont.