Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Collateral Damage - About 8-9 Weeks Later

It has now been several weeks since the aerial spraying incident on our farm.  And, of course, we have moved on with our work on the farm (and Tammy at school).  We are fully aware that there are so many things that happen in the world that are so much worse and we have worked hard to keep our perspective and to maintain a positive attitude.

But, even now, we are discovering how this event effects us.  And, we are bothering to share this with everyone because we believe it is important to share how we feel so you can understand how this can impact farms and farmers who do what we do.  Again, it isn't because we like the attention.  It isn't because we want sympathy.  It is because we you need to learn what misapplication of chemicals does to those who are victims when it happens.
The weeks immediately after the spraying were filled with earnest discussions between Tammy and I, all of them orbiting around a careless action that resulted in a bit of heartache for us.  What did we need to do next?  Were any of the crops going to be edible?  What do we do with our poultry?  Does anyone know what the next steps are?  Can anyone confirm anything with respect to food safety and this spraying?  Are there health issues we need to be aware of?  What will the lab results be?  If we meet our farming neighbors at the store, will they acknowledge us or this event?  How will we adjust the CSA shares?  How does this change our budget?  Our plans?  Will we have energy for the extended season shares?  What do we say to people when they ask us about this?  Is it even fair for us to be this upset when others we know are dealing with far more serious situations?  How can we take this situation and turn it around into a positive action?

I could probably bore you with a list of questions we grappled with that is two to three times longer than the sample above.  Some of the questions have answers that we are comfortable with now.  Others are still being asked and researched.  Others may never be answered.

Recently, I had the opportunity to show our legal representative around the farm.  I must admit that I've avoided the Southwest field since I last picked in order to get some records and pictures.  Why spend time on a lost cause when there is so much to do?   As I took my guest to that field, I was prepared to simply see lots of weeds.  Which I did.  But, I also saw lots of fruit on those pepper plants.  Even after the picking I did a few weeks prior.  It's about at that point that I realized that I'm no where near being "over it" and "ready to move on" as I thought I was.

I was able to pick a picture perfect yellow bell pepper.  I saw purple bell pepper plants that were covered.  The Jimmy Nardello's Frying Pepper plants are loaded and the eggplant looked like we could have been giving everyone a couple each week for the past few weeks.  I noted that the dry beans in that field are covered with pods asking to be picked and the green beans would have made our quest for 1000 pounds for the year be more likely to be a quest for 1500 pounds.  I saw all of this while knowing that we had made arrangements to secure peppers from Grinnell Heritage Farm and G It's Fresh(thank you to both!) so that we could give some to our CSA members. 

I don't know anymore if I'm angry, depressed, disappointed or what.  Maybe all of the above.  But, I do know that something is wrong when so many people I meet have their own stories of encounters with aerial sprayers that cannot seem to contain their spraying to the fields they were hired to cover.  There is something wrong when farmers can contract with someone else, who then hires someone else, to do chemical applications in their fields - and it isn't done with increased precision, efficiency or care despite the argument that this should place the application into the hands of an 'expert.'

But, this is neither here nor there with respect to how things are going on the farm right now.   Here are some answers to some of the questions we have been asked:

1. How is Rob doing?  We understand he was hit with chemicals.
Thank you to all who have been concerned.  There were some symptoms, including breathing issues immediately afterward that made it very difficult to do work.  However, there are no chronic issues.

2. Is someone going to compensate you?
At some point, we expect the legal process to complete and hope that our losses will be compensated.  We are expecting the process may take around 2 years to complete.  For the time being, we'll just have to deal with the financial shortfalls and do what we have to do.

3. Were you able to harvest any of the sprayed crops? 
No.  We harvested some for record keeping (to show we had a crop to lose).  Then threw it all in the compost pile that was also sprayed.  This included the loss of all of the crops in the high tunnel.

4. What does this do to your Organic Certification?
We lose certification in the fields that were sprayed ONLY.  WE lose it for three years.  This means we lose the Southwest fields, the high tunnel and the area around it.  Our pastures will not be certified organic either.  Happily, the majority of our field production is in the East fields.  These we will be able to certify as before.  What this DOES mean is that we will have to track both organic and non-organic crops.  We'll have to clean things that are used in both areas and make sure labeling is clear.

5. How are the birds?
We have lost a few birds since the spraying.  However, we are not willing to spend the money to have autopsies done to confirm loss due to the spraying.  This might have been a different story if we'd lost many birds.  But, the small number of losses could be due to anything from old age (older laying hen) to clumsiness (a turkey fell off of its roost).  The birds were moved off of the sprayed pastures and we are just now moving them back onto their pastures.  The toxins should now be worked out of their systems and we are now selling eggs again.  The turkeys will be available for sale at the end of October.

6. Is there anything we can do?
Yes!  Continue to support our farm by purchasing our product and continue to support local food sources and certified organic food sources of all sorts.  Ask questions about how things are raised and grown wherever you get your food.  Challenge yourselves to do a better job of eating well - even as we do the same.

And...read, understand and be ready to help make positive changes.

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