Saturday, October 2, 2010

Field Notes From The Farm -- October, 2009

Here's the fifth in my Dad's "Field Notes from the Farm" series:  

October, 2009

Field Notes From The Farm

So much news!  But we need to start with a big Thank You to the three amigos, the three being our sons, Peter, John and Andy who pooled resources and bought us a travel trailer to put on the farm.  Having the capacity to sleep at the farm reduces a lot of back and forth travel time and increases our security position.

The next news item is that we are now Certified Organic Farm Crop Producer #435.  The certification is issued by the New Mexico Organic Commodity Commission (NMOCC for short) and is valid for one year.  Next Spring we will be submitting a renewal application.  The renewal is much simpler than the initial application.  We need to describe what are production plans are for 2010, any changes, additions, deletions, etc.  An inspector will make an on-site visit and compare stated practice to the actual performance.  Additionally, all of our written records will be reviewed for accuracy and completeness.  This is the nuts and bolts of consumer protection: an independent, third party certification that the farm practices are in compliance with the National Organic Program.

The federal government has preempted the word "organic".  The word "organic" is now a legal term.  If you do not follow specified practices and have independent third party certification of your compliance, you are not organic.  When shopping, if you have any question as to how the food was produced, ask if it is organic.  If the answer is "Yes", ask for their Certification number.  If the answer is: "I'm not certified, but I grow organically" you need to ask a lot more questions.  The advantage of shopping at a farmer's market is that you have the opportunity to have personal interaction with the grower and satisfy yourself that your health and welfare are being protected by food that is good for you.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four MealsDirt: The Erosion of CivilizationsThe organic producer I question is the industrial producer.  I am sure that they adhere to the negative precepts of organic production in that they do not use commercial fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.  While eating food that has no poison residues is a step in the right direction, what about the quality of the food in supporting your good health?  It is through composting, green manures and crop rotations that the tilth of the soil is built up.  (This way of thinking is still so out of the main stream that the spelling checker does not even recognize the word tilth.  The checker wants me to use "tilt", "filth", or "tithe".  Hardly!)  This is the positive side of organic production.  The bottom line question is the farmer building or mining the soil?  Mining the soil depletes it of the minerals necessary for the good health of the plants which in turn depletes the mineral content of the food you eat necessary to maintain your good health.  For an interesting read on this subject, read Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma [I also recommend Dirt by David Montgomery.]

We have put our toe in the water as a vendor at the El Dorado Farmer's Market.  We like to have an unusual product to attract shoppers.  We have had Sunflowers and Zinnias as cut flowers.  One week, we took wild plums that we collected from a hedgerow on our farm.  Their tang skin wrapping up their sweet flesh makes a delightful taste sensation.  The fragrance of ripe Champanel grapes was another hit.  Another week we took the big, green, bumpy fruits of the Osage Orange as a novelty and a seed source if someone wanted to start their own trees.  We learned from our customers that the Osage Orange is an effective insect repellent!  Just throw it under the house or put it in your closet!  Another hit was an heirloom paste tomato called Olpaka.  Many people mistakenly thought the Olpakas were red chilies because of their shape and large size.  They have been rated as the best tasting paste tomato, sweet and meaty at the same time.

Joanie Quinn of the NMOCC was kind enough to share some interesting facts about organic production in New Mexico.  As of last month, there are 187 certified organic producers in the state.  That is an increase from 2005 when there were only 106 organic producers.  The numbers are broken down by county.  The leading county is Roosevelt that increased from 5 in 2005 to 34 this year.  The other leading counties are: Bernalillo, 23; Dona Ana, 21; Rio Arriba, 17; Santa Fe, 16; and Taos, 12.  Also, it is interesting to note that our number is 435.  That means that 248 former certified organic producers have (take your pick) been de-certified, retired, died, gone out of production, or no longer see the value of adhering to the process of being certified.  This is where you as the consumer can make a difference.  Support your certified organic producers.  Enough of the commercial: on to the next big news item.

The 2009 Farm Bill for the first time had monies allocated to support organic production.  We have received a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to add plantings to our hedgerows to expand our biodiversity, support wildlife, and create habitat for beneficial insects.  We have 12 months to implement most of the grant and an additional 12 months to implement a few of the longer-term items.  We are now in the initial planning stages and will have more information for you later in the year.  We are excited by all the possibilities, but need to maintain a focus so that our enthusiasm does not run away from the reality of the terms of the grant.

One final bit of news came to us in Shaklee's newsletter "Health Quest".  The main article was a discussion about a class of compounds known as phytoalexins.  These compounds accumulate in plants in response to infection, wounding, freezing, UV light exposure and microbial attack.  The plant protects itself by producing phytoalexins and when we eat these plants, the phytoalexins in turn protect us.  A few of the better-known phytoalexins are resveratrol found in red wine and allicin found in garlic, onions and leeks.  The broad spectrum of benefits for us from consuming phytoalexins include compounds that are anti-microbial, anti-oxidative, anti-tumor promoting, cholesterol lowering and also serve as estrogen agonists.  Although phytoalexins have been studied for 60 years, it is only recently that the potential health benefits for humans have been explored.  Here is the most  interesting fact about phytoalexins: they are found in much higher concentrations in organic produce than in conventional produce.  Think of organic produce as raised under a regime of tough love.  Once again the message is clear: Eat Organic!  One interesting anomaly is that the synthetic analogs produced in the lab are not as physiologically active as their naturally occurring compounds.  This has been demonstrated for both phytoalexins as well as vitamins.  Once again,to sound like a broken record, Eat Organic!  For those of you who would like to find out more about the benefits of using Shaklee's organic based, sustainable line of products, contact Judy Moon at 505-983-5282.  Highly recommended!

Summer is easing into fall and we are reminded once again of the powerful rhythms that modulate our lives.  As we attune our actions to these rhythms and learn more of the subtleties of Nature's interactions, we are humbled by our ignorance.  Yes, we "know" a lot of things; we are well "educated" and we read a lot, but any pretense to understanding is laid low by the complexity of Nature.  One quick example:  We sent soil samples into the lab for analysis and applied organic fertilizers based on the lab results and recommendations.  We had reasonable expectations of a decent yield on the crops, but the results did not measure up, especially on sweet corn.  Cross comparisons of the performance of different crops in different fields lead us to the conclusion (working hypothesis) that the structure of the soil was lacking enough organic matter.

John Jeavons of Ecology Action has developed his Grow Biointensive system of food production.  He has developed his own method of making compost that is slower and cooler than the usual composting process.  His end product has 30% carbon vs. the 12% of the usual compost.  Jeavons can build up his soil faster and maintain a higher level of organic matter with his high carbon compost.  Using his Grow Biointensive system, Jeavons rates beginning level as having a yield equal to the U. S. average, but being able to grow enough organic matter to take production to the next level.  His intermediate level has potential crop yields at twice the U. S. average.  Jeavons' high level of sustainable soil fertility should give potential crop yields four times the U. S. average.  That is an incredible level of achievement and one to which we aspire.  As we strive to attain this high level, we are thankful that Nature is resilient and that this land we love is responding to our efforts.

David and Valorie Hutt
Earth Echo Farm
Tecolotito, New Mexico

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