Thursday, November 29, 2018

More Queue and A!

Starting soil must also be approved for organic operations
The series of posts answering questions from Dr. Wen's Capstone class continues with this post.  It's a rare thing to have this many posts dedicated to one thing on our blog.  But, it's hard to pass on what is a such a good thing.  So, here you go!

Organic and Taste/Quality:
I’m not sure how I feel about organic costing more just because it requires more work. Isn’t it basically the same product? What is the actual difference? Is what they are doing differently that important? I would rather pay more for something if I can tell an actual difference in the taste and quality.

This question or something similar to it actually showed up in a couple of reflections, so I apologize to the others who asked it as well that I didn't copy paste their versions of the question as well.

This question if a fair one and it deserves to be answered well.  After all, people who grow certified organic foods WANT you to believe the product is good.  I grow certified organic veggies so I also want you to believe there is good quality to be had.  But, I also want you to consider what I have to say without skepticism, so I am very careful with my claims.  I wrote a post a couple of years ago that highlighted a research meta-study that considered all of the existing research regarding organic production and food quality.  If you are really interested in what I believe is a solid answer to this question, go to that post and read it.  It's worth the time.

If you want the short version, I will give it to you here.  The meta-study, after looking at all of the results and adjusting for study design flaws, etc etc came up with these three points:
1. fruits, vegetables and grains grown using organic practices have less chemical residue
2. fruits, vegetables and grains grown using organic practices have more antioxidants - which are good for you.
3. there is so much more to learn.
Veggies from a September share

These are the FACTS that have been established by research as I see them.  It is up to you to decide if they are sufficient to make a decision based ONLY on food qualities.

Then, I'd like you to consider three more points:
1.  Local production typically has better quality. There is additional research that shows fruits and vegetables that are purchased from local producers typically have better quality.  So, if you can't get organic, perhaps you should consider local production?  Remember, I can harvest a tomato that is closer to ripe than someone who needs to ship a tomato from Mexico.  They are concerned about growing product that has shelf-life rather than a pleasing taste or texture.
2. Certified Organic products are traceable.  If you are worried about food safety (see the recent romaine lettuce issue) you should consider that a large part of organic certification is traceability.  Where the product goes and what is done to it is carefully recorded, this is a benefit for better food safety.  If you can't buy local, the certified organic provides you with an extra layer of food safety.
3. Many of the benefits for Certified Organic products have nothing to do with taste and food quality.  Many of the organic growing processes focus on damaging our environment less than other growing methods.  It's a long view of growing food that considers how we impact our water, soil and wildlife.  In the end, if certified organic produce tastes the same as other produce and if they cost the same thing or a tiny bit more, why wouldn't you select certified organic?

If you are interested in some of the specifics regarding organic certification and our farm, I encourage you to view these:

By genetically modifying any seed, we essentially make the plant better at some things that we want. For example, the could be more resistant to pesticides, maybe have higher yields etc. If I understand correctly, this reduces the need for using very toxic pesticides or the use of fertilizer that have massive environmental effects. Knowing a little
bit about GMOs, I still don’t have any problems with consuming any GMO. Do you think GMOs make our diets less healthy? Do you think controlling the use of GMO is a fair regulation as a part of the certification process? Do you personally care?

Another great question that is complex and difficult to answer simply.   I will try to keep it from getting too complex here, but I may get motivated to write more on it in the future. 
Grasses (and corn) are wind-pollinated, making trait migration easier.
First, I want to clarify something.  Humans have participated in genetic modification for centuries by selecting seed to propagate.  Even I participate in this when I select 'seed garlic' or when I collect seed from our zinnia flower plantings to use the next year.  If humans were to die out tomorrow and the world was able to self-select surviving plant types, very few of the cultivars we favor would make it.  The issues surround modifications that are created by genetic engineering.  Here is a fantastic overview of that process that might clarify the issue for you.

I have absolutely no problem with the absence of genetically modified seeds in certified organic processes at this time.  In fact I prefer it that way.  Why?  Well, once again, I feel that a holistic approach that includes a broader range of solutions and tools is preferable to one that relies on a single solution that lies entirely outside of the farmers' sphere of influence.  Let me give a you a quick rundown of the issues I have with GMOs right now:

1. Traits currently selected to be edited into crops promote poor farming practices.  The most widely used GMO crops introduce traits that allow a crop to tolerate and survive our most widely used herbicides.  You've probably already read that I think we have built an over-reliance on chemicals into our farming system.  This only makes it worse.
2. Trait migration can happen, and we are not certain how bad that can be.  Here is another good short article that summarizes the issue as it is know right now.  From a practical farmer standpoint, cases have been documented where traits in corn have migrated to nearby corn crops and 'infected' the seed in a non-GMO crop.  So, migration happens.  The problem is, we have a tendency to allow use of a technology before we are sure we can contain the unintended consequences of using that technology.
3. Genetic modification is usually motivated by making money rather than making things better.  If it were really the latter, we'd be much more patient with figuring out the unintended consequences.
Lettuce bolting (sending up seed stalks)

4. Our farming systems ignore natural processes so much that we are heading towards limiting our choices to produce food.  Genetic modification isn't evil by itself.  But, if we keep backing ourselves into a corner where we have no choice other than genetic modification, then I don't see a benefit.  Wealth and health come with choices, not the other way around.
5. GMOs take even more control away from the farmer.  Increased use of products like Dicamba-ready soybeans and Round-up ready corn only promotes reliance on a limited set of outside sources for farming inputs and reduces the ability of farmers to choose to be self-reliant if they want to collect and use their own seed. 

What Keeps Us Going:
You go on to say that you are awake when the chickens go to sleep and you are awake when the chickens wake up. For the things that you give up, how is it that you still like to farm? I feel like I would be so sleep deprived that I would want to take personal days all the time but you just do it everyday. What keeps you going?

Just when I think the questions can't possibly encourage me to cover more ground, I get this one.  Wow.

Truth in advertising.  We wonder about this ourselves sometimes.  This season's trials have really given us pause and we actually revealed how difficult it was to keep going in our blog.  In fact, every season has its moments.  But, we're usually philosophical about it.  After all, every job or profession has its negatives, doesn't it?  But, if you read a bit later this year in our blog, you'll find that I'm ready to rededicate myself to the coming growing year.

You might recognize that the first post linked above probably shows my state of mind at the point I presented at UNI.  I was NOT in the best place I could be with respect to the farm.  And, I assure you that if I find myself in that place all of the time, I will move on - because I can't do anyone any good if I can't see positive ways forward.
Borage is a favorite flower companion on the farm

In any event, I may not have conveyed enough of the benefits, both tangible and intangible, that I receive by working on the farm.  Let me give you insights as to some of the things that keep me going by providing some links:

  • The Farmers Dream - I was just reminded of this post by someone else.  It's a great post and gives you plenty of pictures and looks into what we enjoy at our farm.
  • Realm of Peace and Content - maybe a little Tolkien reference interests you? 
What keeps us going?  In the end, it's the belief that we are doing something worthwhile and we appreciate the challenge of doing it as well as we are able.  We have a purpose.  We have goals.  We have opportunities to reach for those goals.

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