Certified Organic

Yes, we are officially certified organic. It wasn’t as hard as I thought – maybe 40 hours of work on my part for the whole process, plus slight adjustments to our record keeping systems, but otherwise, we were already following the standards. Everyone at Bay State Organic Certifiers was easy to work with.

So, now that we’re certified I can tell you my real feelings about organic certification . . . they are mixed. It’s hard to think of where to start. I will say, that when I’m shopping at a grocery store I try to buy organic. Especially grains/flours/products made with grains because I’m wary of herbicide residues from desiccation practices. I like having the label – it makes me feel a little more confident that there really are no herbicide/pesticide residues on the product I’m purchasing and that those inputs didn’t affect the farm workers or the environment where that food was produced.

But that’s where it ends. I don’t feel confident any product that I buy certified organic in the store was produced in a way that builds soil, truly respects animal welfare and didn’t degrade the ecosystem where it was produced (heck, we are now certified organic and I’m not convinced that we aren’t somewhat degrading our ecosystem). And the organic label doesn’t even touch on human rights/labor justice. It’s a marketing tool. Most of the “organic” farms selling to grocery stores are still basically mono-cropping agribusinesses.

Kevin thinks we can just sell our food for the prices we need to sell it for without being certified, so why bother?

I worry about the elitism that surrounds the organic label. I believe with my whole being that every person regardless of socio-economic status deserves access to food free of chemical inputs that meets their nutritional and cultural needs, within reason. I’m not saying people should get whatever they want, whenever they want it – I’m actually strongly opposed to that, but I don’t think price should be a barrier if someone wants to purchase food without wondering if they are slowly contaminating themselves, or their environment.

Everyone says that I’ll get so many more customers with certification. But I worry about the customers who won’t shop with me because they have a bad attitude about organic, or who will just assume our produce is too expensive. Sure, I can’t match Market Basket prices – but I definitely come close to/match most of the other grocery stores and definitely at least match other local farms, regardless of their certification status. When deciding what to charge, of course I pay attention to what others are charging, but I also try to actually track expenses, to make sure I’m charging reasonable prices to cover costs, still pay employees fairly, make sure that when we’ve run a truck into the ground we’re able to put up a down payment for another, but I really want to charge the least amount of money possible – especially for our CSA members. (PS: I love Market Basket and I love that there is fresh produce available at affordable prices there.)

Also, in terms of getting customers – that’s never been our problem. Land access used to be our biggest problem, now we’re working on building systems for ease of production. Maybe we’ll get so great at growing food we’ll be desperate for customers in a few years, but it’s my hope that we will grow our customer base as we grow. We have GREAT, dedicated customers who I adore and appreciate, especially since they trusted me even before I got the certification. I don’t want to charge them any more than what is reasonable.

The cost of certification isn’t that bad. I’m much more cranky about credit card processing fees than my certification costs. To offset the cost of certification I’d need to charge an additional .0055 cents for every dollar I charge. So a $3 bunch of carrots would actually cost $3.0165. I’m pretty sure if I can eat a 2.9% + 30cent/transaction credit card fee I can eat a .55% organic fee. And, there is a cost-share grant program to offset the certification fee, so it’s really just .36%.

I don’t like to encourage blindly believing that a regulatory authority is worth trusting. The National Organic Program is a part of the USDA, they write the rules and accredit the certifiers. What do you really know about the program? Have you read the standards? Do you know who is on the NOP Board? I’m not advocating that you spend time researching this, I’m just want you to think about who you are trusting to make you feel confident that I’m producing food in a way you approve of.

Also, I know a lot of growers who don’t fully embrace the organic standards who grow excellent food. I don’t think I’m better than they are, or that our produce is better.

It’s a marketing tool. I’m probably drastically reducing it’s impact by trying to be honest about my mixed feelings, but that’s ok, I think my dedicated customers know me well enough now to roll their eyes and keep munching on their bok choy, and those of you who wanted me to prove my methods of production though third party certification – well, here you go! I hope you’ll like us for more than our label.

Yes, our address is incorrect – it’s being adjusted now and I will update the form when I have it.

Oh, and the type-A, needs to make everyone happy and wants approval form authority part of me definitely got a little rush when I received my certification confirmation email. I try to pretend I’m not that girl anymore, but, I’d be remise if I didn’t include that honest truth.

Spring CSA: Week 2, Farm Update

I just wrote a long blog about our organic certification, and now I’m going to rely on pictures again to give a farm update.

I’m about to send an email to everyone who pre-ordered seedlings to remind them that pick up is this weekend, and which day/location they picked, so if you are wondering, you won’t have to wonder for long!

Speaking of seedlings – Kevin, Joella and Terry finished the Hardening off tunnel last Wednesday and then we filled it with seedlings. We really are like those cartoons running out over open air, building the bridge in front of themselves this year. Mostly our seedlings are doing really well, we’ve had a few losses, more about that in your order updates, but our inventory looks really good.

Here is the schedule for our retail sales for seedlings:

On-site in Pepperell
May 16th, 22nd and 23rd, 9am-3pm

Holliston Community Farm
May 16th 9am-3pm
May 18th (Tuesday) 1pm-6pm

We had our first CSA last week and our new-to-us box truck got to put in a little work besides moving farm equipment and supplies from Bellingham/Franklin to Pepperell. It was great to see everyone at distribution, and I don’t know about you but I have been scarfing fresh greens all week! More to come this week!

Dave, the farmer who has farmed this land in Pepperell, and still lives here in a cottage on the property, let us clean up and use his boom sprayer that he made himself. We used it to apply predatory nematodes to our onions and brassicas (broccoli/cabbage). They will grow and hopefully eat onion maggots and cabbage root maggots which can cause stunting and major losses in new transplants. I found onion maggot while scouting this evening (not surprised, we are planting after hay which usually means higher rates of onion maggot). I’m hoping our application was well timed and these pests won’t cause too much damage.

We got some of our first flowers in the ground on Saturday and then planted more today. We planted: ammi, snap dragons, dianthus, cosmos, rudbeckia, atriplex, bachelors buttons, calendula, stock, gaillardia, coreopsis and more. If you haven’t signed up for your flower share, we still have a few left!

Does anyone know anything about maples? Are they setting record numbers of seeds this year? Have I just missed this in the past? I feel like I pay attention, and maybe it’s just that I’m a little further north but the colors of the seed pods as they develop are so striking. It’s been like fall foliage for a while.

And, a picture of my plate on Saturday evening. We’ve been doing a lot of pizza and hot dogs lately . . . it’s just that kind of year. But on Saturday I made a quiche with our eggs, asparagus from our neighbor, mushrooms from our neighbor and greens and carrots from the farm (yes, we have overwintered carrots!). It was pretty special. I planted flowers all day with a friend (and by all day I mean we planted flowers from 3:30-5:00 after spending the rest of the day gathering supplies and preparing beds for planting. I like to say that we have to do a lot of work in order to be able to do our work . . . but it was very relaxing.

We are resting up to the best of our ability (said the farmer who was still blogging at 10:00pm) to get ready for the big seedling sale this weekend. We can’t wait to see everyone!

May Update, Spring Share 1

We are really getting it done this spring. I’m exhausted, which is a scary place to be when harvest is just beginning this week, but I know this is only temporary. Somehow the crops are growing!! Believe it or not, every year I still wonder if crops will grow. Maybe it’s because we’ve been on new ground every year for a while and I’m just unsure of the soil, maybe it’s all still a little bit like magic for me.

We are harvesting tomorrow for our first Spring Share distribution at the Holliston Community Farm, 1pm-5pm, Tuesday, May 4th. Spinach, lettuce, cilantro, arugula and bok choy are slated to be in the first share. Weston Nursery pick up us Thursday, 12:00pm-5:00pm, Thursday, May 6th.

We have been crushing our to-do lists, even with Harvey out of school for ten days sick, and crazy winds and rain storms, we are getting it done in a big way. Our crew is amazing – enthusiastic, talented and ready to make it work.

This team planted a half acre of potatoes in about 2 hours the other day . . . it was the best potato planting we’ve ever done. We don’t have special equipment for planting potatoes and have typically carried heavy buckets around while we drop seed. This year, I rode in the bucket of the tractor (super slow, and Kevin is a wicked safe driver) and Avery and Jess rode on the transplanter. We each planted our own bed. I almost always underestimate how long a task will take, and this was one excellent, surprising moment when it was faster – and really fun.
On the left are the potatoes, and on the right are the onions (can you see the faint green?) That’s 40,000+ onions!!

We’ve been planting like maniacs – and have a made a few major pushes to get plantings in before the rain. (Sometime, like in the picture above and to the right, we get caught in the rain before we are completely done – that was a really wet moment). Last week Joella, a new, part-time employee responded to my call for help at 3:00pm and we had six, 400 foot beds of cabbage planted by 6:00pm. And I managed to get the carrots and parsnips seeded before 9:00. It was hard to do by tractor headlight, but I think I nailed it.

The sky has been incredible lately – and I’ve been making myself take time to stop and appreciate it.

The sky while I was seeding carrots and parsnips before last week’s rain.
The Pink Super Moon was rising while I was kind of stressed out closing the caterpillar tunnels on the 26th – it stopped me in my tracks and put things in perspective.
The super moon as I was finishing up my greenhouse closing loop.
Stormy clouds before a rainstorm.

It is sunny here too! This pic is a little older – I think the rye is about 4 times as tall now. We have planted roughly 3.5 acres, we plowed another 3.5 acres of cover crop last week and then we’ve got about 3.5 more acres in rye and vetch that we are going to let grow for another few weeks before we turn it in.

And we planted the high tunnel tomatoes!!

I apologize that is is a rambling update – I got my second vaccine yesterday (Moderna) and I feel like I have the flu. It’s all good, but I need to rest up so I can harvest tomorrow! More updates to come soon!