Monday, March 25, 2013

Certified Organic at GFF (part II)

Periodically, we are asked if we are organic.  We answer positively that we certified organic.  Of course, the next question to us is - what's the difference between organic and certified organic?

The simple answer is this - technically, something can't be marketed as organic unless it is certified as organic.  The exception is if a grower sells less than $5000 in product during a year.  In that case, they may apply for and receive an exemption, but should still follow all the rules.

Click here our first post in the series.

The first installment is an attempt to summarize all it takes for us to certify our vegetable production as organic. We thought we'd discuss a few specific things that may be of interest to others that pertain directly to our farm.

2. Use substances in production that can be found in an approved list.

In my last post, I noted that this means sprays are NOT prohibited.  But, let me clarify - most sprays are not on this list.  More specifically, the synthetics are not there. It is certainly possible, however, to find herbicides, insecticides and other items that are on the list of allowed inputs for an organic operation. Which is why we encourage you to get to know your farmer and how they do what they do. Seeing the organic certification is the first step towards knowing what is important to them. But, it is not the final word as to how well they protect the land or how clean their product might be for your consumption. Simply put, if I needed to buy food products and the only options were organic or non-organic, I would buy organic because there is some regulation in place for the food producer that I support. But, if I have the option of buying locally where I can learn something about the practices used by the producer, I will typically choose that - assuming, of course, that I agree with enough of their practices.

Putting it another way - there are people who are certified organic that don't do it well and don't have their hearts in the right place. Similarly, there are local growers that don't do things the way I would prefer they did. By paying attention to who I buy from, I can work to support practices I find agreeable and responsible.

What do we believe?
We don't believe in using pesticides and herbicides.  And, if you want reasons for this, we'll cover it at a later point in time - or you can refer back to other things we've written in this blog or elsewhere.

You would think fulfilling our obligations on point two should be easy since we hold this stance about these sorts of sprays.  But, remember, the answers aren't so easy.  This list applies to any input for the farm.  This includes soil for seed starting, cleaning solutions and mulches.  In other words, we must consider any input to be used on our farm carefully and we can't just take someone's "word" that a product is "organic."

And, there are some inputs that are permissible on a certified organic farm that we are not comfortable with using on our farm.  For example, many farms have taken to using plastic mulch.  This is allowed as long as that mulch is removed each season (it typically would only last for one growing season anyway).  We're not entirely comfortable with how plastic might adversely impact the biology in the soil, so we choose not to use it.  Instead, we try to use organic mulches such as straw, grass and more recently, paper.

What does this mean for us?

The decisions we make about inputs on our farm are largely based on how we feel about the impacts they might have on our soil and the surrounding environment.  There are a number of practices that we subscribe to that are not necessarily embraced by other growers due to cost or efficiency reasons.  And, we readily admit that there are some things we do that may not provide us with the best bottom line.

On the other hand, we also do not assume that the financials provide us with the true "bottom line" for our farm.  There are other things of value (tangible and otherwise) that are not easily measured by a profit margin.  So, we try to assess whether these benefits are sufficient to offset what might have been lost profit.

The other exception we make is for things we believe can be *made* to be efficient or profitable.  In these cases, we have decided not to follow the current conventional wisdom as we work to figure out if our alternatives can be made to work successfully.  We are willing to sacrifice some of our bottom line results in the hopes that we can find the way to make some of our ideas work in an effort to reach our ideals. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spring is Coming

It may not feel like it, but Spring is coming!

Soon, we will see things like cranesbill blooming.  We have several patches of cranesbill on our farm, remnants from a time when we did as much perennial flower gardening as we did vegetables.  These plants divide easily and continue to expand (but not in an invasive manner).  They only bloom for a couple of weeks, but they are worth it.

We've already seen a rainbow this year, but there was no green grass to go with it.  We're also hoping that pot of gold that is supposedly out by the high tunnel can be found this year.  We've got some projects that gold could help fund!

Every year we think we'll actually get around to putting in some mass bulb plantings on the farm.  Every year, we fail to get to it.  That doesn't mean we don't have a few tulips, daffodils and other flowering bulbs on the farm.  And, as long as the rabbits don't get them first, they can put on a nice little show.

The dance of the seedling trays has already begun on the farm.  But, the days of putting them out on the driveway or near the cold frames are apparently still in the future.  Mother Nature has her times and her ways.  We're just going to have to work with it the best we can.  But, there's still the promise that we'll have tray after tray of starts that will soon become row after row of healthy vegetable plants.
Speaking of plants - soon we will have tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, squash, basil and other plants available to sell to those who want to grow their own.  We intend to sell at the Waverly Farmers' Market and we will also set a couple of days to sell in Cedar Falls (and perhaps Waterloo) at the Hansen's Dairy stores.  Stay tuned to date announcements.

The picture shown above is already a bit strange for us.  We've grown used to Chumley the big red truck and can hardly believe that the picture shown here is less than a year old.  There he is, Grover, the blue truck with the red hood.  Rest In Pieces.
 We're always anxious to see which iris plants will bloom for us.  We're anxious to see which ones made it through last year's dry weather.  Who knows how many or how much.  I guess we'll just have to wait and see.  Rob is hoping Thornbird (the name of the iris shown above) is one who will grace us with her presence this season.

Seedlings hold the promise of more to come.  Get through the next few cold days and think about all of the green and growing things that are getting ready to start their growing season.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Lafou, I've been Thinking...

Thinking...a dangerous pastime.

And, my thoughts have been all over the place recently.

The picture above shows the super cool barn that was on our property when we lived in western Minnesota.  This was 'pre Genuine Faux Farm,'  but it may have had a lot to do with us ending up starting the farm.

I started thinking about this when I was considering our current barn in its skeletal state.  Frankly, our current barn never was in a configuration or state of repair to have lended us much use for what we do on our farm.  So, while it is sad to see a 100+ year old building on its way out...

On the other hand, the barn above would have fit our needs on our current farm extremely well.  You just don't see that design all that often.  The real kicker about the barn shown above, it did not originate at the location you see in the picture.  It was MOVED several miles and placed on this spot.  No, not by us.  Yes, it was on purpose.  We both loved that barn, we just didn't know what to do with it at the time.  So, if anyone runs across a barn like this - mail it to: PO Box....

There was also a granary on the property.  It may not look like much on the outside....but, the inside!  The walls were made of 2x4 lumber.  That may not sound strange.  But, the 2x4's were laid on top of each other (flat) to make a solid wall.  They were not used as framing.  We joked that this is where we would have gone in case of severe weather.  That thing wasn't going anywhere.  We don't trust any of our current outbuildings for that sort of duty.  Looks like the basement in the house wins here.

An amusing thing about people.  We think things that are new to us are, well, new.  We also tend to think that older ideas aren't worthwhile, unless they are old enough to be nostalgic.  Then, they might be fun to try - just don't expect to use them practically.  We also tend to think that the way it has always been done is the way it should still be done.   It's just that the way we are referring to is the way WE have always done it, not necessarily those before us.  Full of contradictions, aren't we?

The Planet Jr models of wheel hoes and seeders have been around for quite some time.  And, small farms such as ours will often use seeders and cultivators similar to one shown above.   It may sound odd to you - but I actually feel like I want to walk for a while behind a wheel hoe right now.  It's good exercise and it accomplishes something useful.  And, it would be warmer and I'd be outdoors right now.  Maybe that's not so odd sounding.

Then there is Mo Farah.  This picture was shared with us last August and provided us with some humor to balance the not so humorous events around that time.  This meme involved pasting a picture of Mo Farah in front of various objects.  Most of them were, of course, amusing.

I'd like to make this picture more amusing.  Let's rearrange the situation so that the airplane is being chased away by hordes of people who do not want chemicals dumped on their heads.  Yes, I like that.

 A while back, I played with some of my favorite digital pictures and tried out some of the effects provided by Adobe Photoshop.  It's not something I'll ever spend lots of time doing, but it was a nice diversion on a cold, windy day when I had a cold.

This serves as a reminder to me (and maybe to you) that a farmer who promotes diversity on the farm should probably promote diversity in his/her own life.  It should be possible to remain dedicated and appropriately focused on our farm without completely shutting out other things.

And there you have it.  A rambling post about ... things.  Enjoy.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Certified Organic - Part I

So, your farm is Certified Organic - so what does that mean anyway?  No chemicals or sprays?  Grow like my grandparents used to grow?

Ah...if only you could ask a simpler question when you wanted a quick answer!
I'm completing our paperwork to apply for organic certification in 2013.  It must go in the mail today if I want to get a discount on the fees.  And, once I complete the paperwork, I find myself a bit more sensitive to persons who take organic certification lightly.  So - a few blog posts are in the making.  I'll keep it from getting too heavy - but I won't skimp on information either.

Step 1 - Look at the National Organic Standards
 Take the link, I'll wait.  Just take a quick look, then come back.

Ok, There is the framework for what becomes organic certification.  In short, it tells us that a certified organic producer will do the following:

1. Maintain quality records of all aspects of production
"Fully disclose all activities and transactions of the certified operation in sufficient detail as to be readily understood and audited"
These records must be available for review and must be kept for five years.  They must demonstrate that we meet all regulations.

2. Use substances in production that can be found in an approved list.
 You may petition for other items and the process of putting things on the list is not simple.  Without going into that, the things you need to know are these:
a. Certified Organic does not necessarily mean NO SPRAY.  This also means that there is no guarantee that a broad spectrum insecticide was not used.
b. What it does mean is that ALL applications can be traced (see #1) and it enforces more of an open book.
c. This also means that some thought is put into deciding what inputs to a farming operation are more sustainable and support a healthier environment.

3. Certified Organic producers must have a production plan that is reviewed and approved by an independent certifying agency.  This plan must meet all other NOS requirements, such as those that follow.

4. Production land must have been transitioned for three years after ANY non-approved substance has been applied before anything from it may be certified organic.  Efforts to avoid contamination (including buffers) are required.

5. Soil health must be monitored and cared for using methods approved by the National Standards.  Specific rules for application of compost, manure, etc must be followed.  No synthetics or sewer sludge are allowed.

6. Seeds and planting stock must be from a certified organic source unless no source can be found.  In those cases, it must be shown that no treatments with non-certified substances were made that can contaminate the fields.  Effort to find sources of certified organic seed must be shown.

7. Crop rotations must be practiced that show efforts to maintain soil health, deal with pest control, avoid soil erosion and manage plant nutrients.

8. Pest, weed and disease control must be planned and use approved methods and materials.  This is big enough that it may need its own blog post.  Again, synthetics are prohibited.  Use of natural habitat is encouraged.

9. Post harvest handling must be planned, recorded and must not used non-approved substances for cleaning, etc.

10. Storage, buildings and facilities used to process foods produced and to be certified organic must meet certain requirements.

11. Non certified product should not be allowed to commingle with certified organic product.  Equipment must be cleaned properly if non-organic product was harvested, etc.  prior to working with product to be certified organic.

12. Product must be traced and handled properly until it reaches its destination.  Use of "organic", "certified organic", etc on labels is strictly regulated.

Certification is an annual process.  Those who wish to be certified organic must apply to a qualified independent certifying agency.  Most states also provide a service through their Ag departments (we certify through Iowa's).  The process includes development of an application that shows the producer's plan to meet the regulations.  It is reviewed by the agency and any shortfalls are noted with indications as to what needs to be adjusted.  On site inspections are part of the process.  Any shortfalls or denied certifications must be reported to the certifying agency.

These accredited agencies require applicants to pay fees in order to be certified organic.  Our costs this year are estimated to be around $750.  We do not begrudge them these fees as they are needed to secure the services of people who have sufficient expertise to review our applications and provide inspection services. 

If you made it this far - good for you!  If you didn't - how did you get to this comment?  Did you cheat and read the end first?  Booooo! Boooo!  You missed the plot twist that way!  Go back and start over.  Then, when you come back.

Good for you!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

If This Doesn't Require A Caption...

The photo shown below shows three members of our self-styled GoF farming group that comprising our farm (Genuine Faux Farm), Scattergood Friends School Farm, Grinnell Heritage Farm and Blue Gate Farm.

The picture below was taken during our end of season gathering that included a much needed calendar burning, some frisbee and... of course... lots of good food.

The picture below was posted on facebook not long after and resulted in a flurry of caption ideas.  I noted this the other day and decided it was worth reposting here.  From left to right:  Mark from Scattergood, Rob from Genuine Faux Farm and Sean from Blue Gate.  It is likely not a mistake that the Grinnell Heritage contingent stayed OUT of the photo.

  • Jennie This looks violent,....?

    Melissa We're a rough crowd. I've never seen Mark upset, so this is quite comical.

    Jennie  Maybe Sean had just said he was going to spray some Roundup?

  • Rob  Quick! Caption contest!

    Tammy  Mark: You must eat raw vegetables. Sean: Oh NO! Rob: Mphph. (translation: I AM munching raw veg!!!).

    Mark "I will wear chacos on December 3rd and there is nothing you can do about it!"

    Jill  Sean, to himself, "and society thinks theatre people are weird?"

    Jill  but the wall color looks GREAT, Jennie!

    Rob  Rob's thought bubble: "If I have to separate these two again, I really will have to take a nap."

    Denis Shermfaux Holmes notices the week old dried piece of potato salad on the finger of the pointing man, identifying him, in a fantastic series of deductions,as his longtime nemesis, Arty-Morty! Elementary my dear Watsit!

    Rob  You are part of the Rebel Alliance and a traitor. Take him away!

    Rob  Ok.. on the count of three, we all change our facial expressions - moving them clockwise. One.....

    Mark  From right to left: Speak no evil, hear no evil, evil.

    Rob  Reactions differ to the old "pull my finger" joke

    Rob  Gotta boogie! (see Weird Al)

    Jill  nope, nope, wont do it!
     This is all just further proof that Iowa vegetable farmers are a creative bunch.  Or maybe they've just been hit one too many times with a blunt object to the head.  Come now - we DARE you to come up with better captions.  Get to it!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

More Song Lyrics by A Man With a Hat

Heat Mats and Grow Lights
(adaptation of Heat of the Moment by Asia and an ode to those plants in trays that always seem to not get the water at the right time)

I never meant to be so bad to you  
One thing I said that I would never do 
Fresh veg from you that I would not waste
And that would put the smile back on my my face

Do you remember when we filled some trays?
And sprouts arose from the seeds we placed
One thing lead to another we were busy
We could almost scream , in such a tizzy!

It was the heat mats and grow lights
Making the soil dry out

The heat mats and grow lights - at least we tried!

And now you find yourself in compost too
The soil hot spots held no charm for you 
We concerned ourselves with other things
If watered more, income you would bring 

'Cuz it's the heat mats and grow lights
The heat mats and grow lights

The heat mats and grow lights - oh how we sighed!

You were looking good. My! How you'd grown.
How many times these seeds we've sown.
You wouldn't think we would miss that shelf.
Our best intentions, should blame myself.

But, 'twas the heat mats and grow lights
Making the soil dry out

The heat mats and grow lights - yes, they fried!

It was the heat mats and grow lights
Heat mats and grow lights
Heat mats and grow lights - again we will try....


For the lyrics from the original tune by Asia, you may find them here: