SFJ

Facebook  YouTube

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PST

Organic To Be or Not To Be

Organic: To Be or Not To Be

(With Apologies to Hamlet)

by Dan Macon of Flying Mule Farm

Occasionally, a customer (or potential customer) at our local farmers’ market will ask whether our grass-fed lamb is organic. In nearly every case, the customer will make a purchase after I explain our reasons for not being certified organic. Because we’re able to sell directly to our customers (usually with face-to-face contact), organic certification has not been advantageous for us. For me, there are both practical and philosophical reasons not to become certified.

First, the practical (and perhaps economic) reasons…

We currently raise nearly 200 sheep, and have with plans to expand this number to more than 400 ewes. We own (along with our bank) just 3 acres, which means we rely almost entirely on rented pasture and contract grazing. This year, we are leasing property from at least 6 different landowners. We’ll be getting paid to graze on at least 5 additional properties, each with yet another landowner. For us to certify our live animals as organic, we’d not only need to certify our husbandry practices — we’d also need to work with our landlords and our grazing customers to certify their land. In other words, we’d need to obtain organic certification on 11 separate properties (with separate owners) in order to call our live lambs “organic.” For our landlords and grazing customers, this would be an unnecessary expense; for us, it would be an undesirable expense, as I’ll explain below.

Organic To Be or Not To Be

To call our meat “organic,” we would need to have our lambs processed in a certified organic processing facility. Given the current meat inspection and environmental health rules, we must have our meat processed in a USDA-inspected plant, of which there are limited options in Northern California. Our current processing partner is Superior Farms in Dixon. Despite the fact that we are a very small fish in their big pond (they process more lambs in a day than we’ll process all year), they do an outstanding job for us. Our lambs are handled humanely (just like we’d handle them), and our meat is processed with care and quality. Superior is not, however, organically certified (and neither are the other facilities we might use) — there is not an economic advantage for them to go to the expense of certification for my 250 lambs this year. In other words, even if we had our production practices and land certified, we would not be able to put the “O” word on our meat label.

These practical barriers are related to the philosophical barrier that exists in my mind. To me, many of our food processing and marketing rules are designed to facilitate a food system where farmers and consumers don’t need to know one another directly. In other words, these regulations (including the National Organic Program) exist to maintain the anonymity of farmers and eaters. Perhaps this is necessary for a system that is large enough to feed 300 million people, but the regulatory system seems to favor very large producers and processors. If you’re buying lamb at the grocery store without any connection to the farm or farmer who raised it, I suppose it’s reassuring to know that a trained inspector approved it or that a third party certified the production practices used by the farmer. I’d rather look the farmer in the eye and ask him or her how their food was produced.

Perhaps these thoughts sound like a rationalization on my part for not becoming certified organic, but let me explain our production system. Our lambs are 100 percent grass-fed — they consume nothing except their mother’s milk, grass, and some extra minerals. We do vaccinate our lambs and ewes against the diseases that are common in our region, but we observe (and go beyond) all of the label restrictions on these vaccines. We feel like we have a responsibility to our animals AND to our customers to raise happy, healthy sheep.

How do our customers know that we’re accurately representing our products? That’s the key, the reason that a third party verification system was created, right? I think this is the beauty of a smaller-scale, community-based direct market food system. During parts of the year, my customers drive past my sheep on their way to the farmers’ market. At all times of the year, we welcome visitors to our farm. In other words, our production practices are entirely open for our customers to see. If you don’t count the trip to the processor (which is just 65 miles from Auburn), our meat is usually consumed within 25 miles of where we raise our animals. The key then is a local, transparent farming and food system. Eating local won’t solve all of our food safety issues, but knowing our farmers (and as farmers, knowing our eaters) is a huge step in the right direction.

Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

Wheel Hoe

The Wheel Hoe: A Tool For Shallow Tillage

When we bought this little farm I soon realized I needed a wheel hoe. The size of the horse and tractor dictated space wasting wide rows in crop production and, to some degree, so does my two wheeled tractor.

New York Organic Grazing Dairy

New York Organic Grazing Dairy

by:
from issue:

Our farm, here in the center of New York State, consists of 101 acres, about 90 in grass, the rest some woods and swamp. It is inhabited by forty-six jersey cows, twelve breeding ace heifers, one bull, and because it is calving season — an increasing number of calves. Also, four Belgian mares and a couple of buggy horses. Last, and possibly least — the farmer, farmer’s wife, and five grown children.

Beating the Beetles – War & Peace in a Houston Garden

Blooming that is, unless the cucumber beetles arrive first.
And arrive they have … “At first I thought they looked like big, yellow lady bugs.” Paul said, “Then I looked…

Such a One Horse Outfit

Such a One Horse Outfit

by:
from issue:

One day my stepfather brought over a magazine he had recently subscribed to. It was called Small Farmer’s Journal published by a guy named Lynn Miller. That issue had a short story about an old man that used a single small mule to garden and skid firewood with. I was totally fascinated with the prospect of having a horse and him earning his keep. It sorta seemed like having your cake and eating it too.

Cultivating Questions Ridge-Till Revisited

Cultivating Questions: Ridge-Till Revisited

Delay ridge building until early fall so that the cover crop on the ridge does not grow more than 12” tall before winter. The residues from a short cover crop will be much less challenging to cultivate than a tall stand of oats, especially if tangly field peas are mixed in. Waiting for the winterkilled cover crop residues to breakdown as long as possible before ridge-tilling in the spring will also make cultivation much easier until you gain familiarity with the system.

Barnyard Manure

Barnyard Manure

by:
from issue:

The amount of manure produced must be considered in planning a cropping system for a farm. If one wishes to manure one-fifth of the land every year with 10 tons per acre, there would have to be provided two tons per year for each acre of the farm. This would require about one cow or horse, or equivalent, for each six acres of land.

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

by:
from issue:

One weekend I attended a Biodynamic meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm in Dorena, Oregon, in the Row River Valley, just east of Cottage Grove. I always enjoy seeing other food growing operations, as this is such an infinitely broad subject, there is always much to learn from others’ experiences. At this farm, draft horses are used for much of the work.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 3

What goes with the sale? What does not? Do not assume the irrigation pipe and portable hen houses are selling. Find out if they go with the deal, and in writing.

English Sheaf Knots

English Sheaf Knots

Long ago when grain was handled mostly by hand, the crop was cut slightly green so seed did not shatter or shake loose too easily. That crop was then gathered into ‘bundles’ or ‘sheafs’ and tied sometimes using a handful of the same grain for the cording. These sheafs were then gathered together, heads up, and leaned upon one another to form drying shocks inviting warm breezes to pass through. In old England, the field workers took great pride in their work and distinctive sheaf knots were designed and employed.

Cultivating Questions: Alternative Tillage & Inter-Seeding Techniques

Our intention is not to advocate the oddball living mulches we use with this single row inter-seeding system, but just to show how it is possible to utilize the between-row areas to improve insect habitat, reduce erosion, conserve moisture, fix some nitrogen, and grow a good bit of extra organic matter. If nothing else, experimenting with these alternative practices continues to keep farming exciting as we begin our twentieth season of bio-extensive market gardening.

Back to the Land

Back to the Land

by:
from issue:

Tired of living in a crowded urban environment with its deafening noise and bumper-to-bumper traffic and eager to escape what they saw as an economy bent on destroying the planet, Matt and Tasha left their home in the Washington, DC metropolitan area in March 2014. In doing so, they became modern-day pioneers, part of a wave of Americans who have chosen to go back to the land over the past decade, seeking to reclaim and rebuild their lives and to forge a deeper connection to the earth, the animals that inhabit it, and to each other.

LittleField Notes Fall 2011

LittleField Notes: Fall 2011

by:
from issue:

There is a certain set of skills and knowledge that tend to fall through the cracks of your average farm how-to book. Books of a more specialized nature are also abundant but often seem to take a fairly simple subject and make it seem daunting in scope and detail. What follows are a few tidbits of knowledge that I have found useful over the years – the little things that will inevitably need to be learned at some point in the farmer education process.

The Farmer and the Horse

The Farmer & The Horse

In New Jersey — land of The Sopranos, Jersey Shore, and the Turnpike — farmland is more expensive than anywhere else. It’s not an easy place to try to start a career as a farmer. But for a new generation of farmers inspired by sustainability, everything seems possible. Even a farm powered by draft horses.

Laying Out Fields For Plowing

Laying Out Fields For Plowing

from issue:

Before starting to plow a field much time can be saved if the field is first staked out in uniform width lands. Methods that leave dead furrows running down the slope should be avoided, as water may collect in them and cause serious erosion. The method of starting at the sides and plowing around and around to finish in the center of the field will, if practiced year after year, create low areas at the dead furrows.

LittleField Notes Hay

LittleField Notes: Hay

by:
from issue:

Farming never fails to dish up one lesson in humility after another. Despite having all the weather knowledge the information-age has to offer, farmers will still lose hay to the rain, apple blossoms to frost, winter wheat to drought… If we are slow to learn humility in Nature’s presence we can be sure that another lesson is never far off.

TMAHK Tripod Haymaking

The Milk and Human Kindness: What I’ve Learned of Tri-Pod Haymaking

by:
from issue:

I have no doubt that when the time comes we are going to need to know how to make hay this way, whether it be this Proctor Tripod method, or the French rack method illustrated in André Voisin’s great book “Grass Productivity” or the Scandinavian “Swedish Rider” method of tightly strung wire “fences” for hay to dry on. Each method has its pros and cons, and it’s my belief that the “Swedish Riders” is the easiest to learn and the Proctor Method may be the most difficult.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Cultivating Questions: A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Market gardening became so much more relaxing for us and the horses after developing a Horsedrawn Guidance System. Instead of constantly steering the horses while trying to lay out straight rows or cultivate the vegetables, we could put the team on autopilot and focus our whole attention on these precision tasks. The guidance system has been so effective that we have trusted visiting chefs to cultivate the lettuce we planned on harvesting for them a few weeks later.

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

by:
from issue:

Three different parcels of land were committed for a series of tests to directly compare the impact of tractors and horses on the land. One side of each parcel was worked only with horses and the other only with tractors. There were measurable differences between each side of the worked areas; the land’s capacity to hold water and greater aeration were up to 45cm higher in areas worked by horses as opposed to tractors.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT