Do YOU know what organic agriculture really entails? Why does organic cost more? And is it really worth the extra cost of food?
Organic farming restricts the use of synthetic hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. It relies instead on the use of compost, crop rotation, manure, cover crops and permaculture to increase the productivity of a piece of land. These practices actually build soil fertility over time versus depleting it, ensuring that the land will be useable for generations to come. Organic produce is also better for you because plants have to fight to survive against weeds and pests, producing more phytochemicals in the process.
Organic farming’s big bad brother is petroleum-based industrial farming, which is the status quo today. Industrial farming is typically done through monoculture, the practice of growing a single crop in large amounts and depends on the application of synthetic petroleum-based pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Because only one crop is being produced, large machinery can be tailored to do the cultivating, planting, and harvesting. We drove through the central valley of California last week on our way to San Francisco: monoculture as far as the eye can see.
Industrial farming seems attractive because it produces a large amount of consistent looking produce for cheap, but it toxifies the soil, promotes soil erosion, contributes to desertification, and the run-off pollutes our drinking water and eventually results in oceanic “dead zones.” Not to mention the health effects of consuming all of these chemicals. Over time, stronger and more pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are required because the soil becomes more depleted of nutrients, and super-pests and super-weeds develop resistance.
Organic practices like polyculture (planting multiple crops in a shared space), weeding by hand, building soil fertility with manure (chicken manure in our case!), planting cover crops, developing compost, rotating crops, and companion planting are all time-consuming for the farmer (heavy machinery isn’t smart enough for these jobs). Because of this, it increases the cost of organic food. But when the collateral costs of pesticide use are accounted for (food related illnesses, environmental degradation, and depletion of fossil fuels), organic food, priced a few cents more, is actually your best investment.
We promise to maintain organic food practices here at Psalter Farm. We may never be certified, and therefore we can’t legally call ourselves “Psalter Organic Farm” (the process is very long and expensive). But we promise you, and you can come see for yourself, that despite any lost crops or lost profits, we will treat our animals and land with integrity and follow the organic way. But be forewarned; our eggs, honey, and produce are going to be a little more expensive than Wal-Mart’s.
We’ve interplanted onions and hot peppers throughout our “field” because their strong smell is a natural pest deterrent. We have several areas where we are growing the “three sisters,” corn, beans, and squash, a traditional Native American practice in permaculture (it’s super cool- the corn provides a trellis for the beans, the beans add nitrogen to the soil which benefits the corn, and the squash provides a living mulch increasing water retention). We’ve interplanted alyssum, a beautiful and fragrant white flower, which attracts beneficial insects. Our hens will not be pumped full of antibiotics, steroids, or hormones. Instead, they’ll have plenty of fresh air, lots of exercise, greens to snack on, and clean water. With a little preventative health, who needs antibiotics! And each week we’ll bite the bullet and pay $32 for our 50 lb. back of organic chicken feed, no matter how much it hurts (I can still complain!). We’ll deal with the ants, aphids, and slugs only in natural ways, and we’ll dig up the crab grass painfully by hand, never using Roundup (we cannot even count how many times people have told us to just use Roundup).
But it will all be worth it. Our veggies will tastes better, contain more antioxidants, and their colors will be more radiant. Our egg yolks will stand up tall in the pan and will be a sunny orange in color. And even more importantly, we’ll get to play a miniscule role in this business of redemption- redeeming food, the land, and life for what God created it to be.
Let us not forget to offer one another grace- eating conscientiously is hard, and old habits die harder. Chris and I don’t promise to be perfect. Yes, we’re starting a farm, but economy bags of Skittles, Coke, and Cheese’ its are still (unfortunately) in high demand at our house, and I seem to have this incurable craving for French fries when I hit hour 10 of a 12 hour shift in the Emergency Room. But we are striving to always do better, and by the grace of God, and with the help of each other, we will. Then, as Norman Wirzba says, instead of saying “I’m sorry” before we sit down for a meal, we can say together, “thanks be to God.”