Recently a young lady in year 11 emailed asking for help with a school project. I answered her written questions finally this morning, and here they are :
What is the reason to go organic and what are the benefits?
Aside from the having a safe living and working environment for my family, our animals and local wildlife organic farming turns out to be far more profitable. While studies such as the Rodale Institute’s 30 year Farming Systems Trial have shown that yields are slightly less in organic systems, profitability is higher. Since 1996 there have been only 2 occasions when amendments ( lime once in 2005 and mineral fertilizer in 2003) have been used by Merri Bee Organic Farmacy. We now know that even those purchases were not necessary and indeed did harm to the soil microbes.
We also eat extremely well, enjoy good health ( we are now nearly 60 years old and feel better than when we were young) and derive a lot of satisfaction from providing great tasting and health giving food to our customers. I especially like to hear the many comments we receive such as “My child would not eat broccoli ( or eggs, or pork) until they tasted yours”. We are also proud to show our flourishing farm, alive with biodiversity, to visitors and point out the many natural closed loop cycles operating here.
Perhaps the greatest reason to go organic is climate change. Soil is the biggest carbon sink on Earth besides the ocean, but only if it is living soil. Conventional farm practices involve pesticides, fertilizers and often ploughing , all of which harm soil life. Only soil microbes, working in conjunction with plants and animals, can save us from catastrophic climate change now. Studies show that at worst, organic farms sequester 7 tons of carbon dioxide per acre per year from the atmosphere. Far better rates of 33 tons CO 2 per hectare per year were measured by MacQuarie University on a farm in mid NSW called Winona, operated by Colin Seiss . Using a technique he originated called “pasture cropping”, Colin is growing his topsoil faster and faster every year. Conventional farms are a significant carbon emitter by contrast . Dr Christine Jones calculates that if all farms in just Australia turned to biological ( organic) management , so much carbon would be sucked out of the globe’s atmosphere that climate change would be reversed in just a couple of years! Several other leading scientists world wide concur. We believe if every person decided to eat only organic food ( by growing or buying it) the crisis of climate change and the current crippling epidemic of poor health would abate in short order.
What processes did you take to be classed as organic?
We became certified organic by NASAA in 2003, beginning the process in 2001 with a year of “ Pre certification”, followed by a year when we were called “in conversion”. I first of all attended a 3 day workshop called “converting to organics”. I needed to pay something like $1,000 to enter the process, complete a written “organic management plan”, draw up farm maps and write out detailed recipes and procedures for the jams and pickles we sold. I also had to keep a farm diary and all receipts for organic inputs purchased. We had to find supplies of organic grain for our animals, which to this day is our greatest expense. I was not a conventional farmer ever, but worked as an Education Assistant. Thus began a long journey over many years where I began to absorb more and more information about the dangerous chemicals and practices applied to mainstream food . I learnt about the use of Agent Orange on sweet potatoes to prevent them sprouting, genetic modification , food irradiation and how a very common herbicide sold as biodegradable and safe for 30 years turns out to be extremely toxic and persistent. I realized that the 5 global Agribusiness corporations not only aimed to control seed supplies and sell billions of tons of agri chemicals but had interests in selling health care products, particularly chemo therapy and cancer detection machines. We are no longer certified organic with NASSA but still comply with all organic standards and claim organic status.
How are your practices different to conventional farming?
To grow a crop the conventional agronomic advice will often be to first of all obliterate all life in the field down to the microbial level with a fumigation treatment aimed at eliminating disease fungi and bacteria. This is somewhat like taking an antibiotic. Our approach the very opposite, and is to increase the beneficial soil biota ( microbes such as bacteria, fungi, protozoa , nematodes, microarthropods and mites and macro life ) with a well made compost . The beneficial microbes outcompete the disease organisms , and supports insect life which often deals with pest infestations at the larval stage before they become a problem. We rely on microscopic fungi to extract minerals from rock particles and deliver them to our crops , which in exchange feed the fungi sugars derived from the ( excess) carbon dioxide in the air. We have millions of earth worms working for us too, and their manure contains vast quantities of plant available nutrients. Important to note that these beneficials are wiped out by fertilizer.
We use techniques such as planned ( crash or cell) grazing , multi species cover crops, poly cultures, agro- forestry and compost tea to boost micro flora over the 70 acres were run. In short we aim to increase the biodiversity on our farm, keeping 7 animal species and growing over 100 species of useful tree and countless more types of shrub, herb vine, fungi and ground cover in food forests. We are able to manage all this through a good permaculture design.
Have you faced any issues due to selling organic, if so what was it and how did you deal with it ?
Marketing can be our weakest link. The false claims of competitors are always sucking in the unwary consumer. We have found that those who focus most on marketing often have the worst product. In our case our products are excellent but not enough people know that.
The mass media is controlled by the 5 companies controlling food and health. These extremely wealthy corporations can and do pay scientists to conduct “studies” which find no superior nutritional status in organic food. They buy media space to say how wonderful is GM food, how organics is a waste of money etc. There is also the duopoly of Coles and Woolworths which compete very well against farmers markets. A plethora of food laws require us for example to stamp every egg we produce, create nutritional tables on labels and pay a host of fees and costs which are difficult to comply with on the small scale we operate, but are easy for supermarkets to do. There are many products we would like to sell but the paperwork, inspections, fees and the changing infrastructure requirements make it too difficult. As but one example, we use to make ice cream from our Jersey cows cream and the wonderful egg yolks in abundance in spring. Authorities first approved our commercial kitchen then changed their mind, so we no longer make ice cream.
Never the less we have succeeded and endured in business for over 14 years now, moving into mainly fruit and vegetable sales where harassment from authorities is least. We have something delicious in our food forest to sell all year round. We intend to expand our farm shop focus in the near future but will continue to enjoy attending weekly farmers market in Margaret River and monthly appearances at City Farm Perth.