As promised, as part of our series documenting our transition to organic certification, I will be posting much of the text and documentation that we’ll be submitting to the certifier. The goal in doing this is to provide an example for other farmers considering certification, and to provide more information for customers about how and why we run our business the way we do. I expect to post all of this information on our website proper over the winter, but I have not done that design work yet and so will rely on the blog for now. Tonight I offer up our response to Section I, which asks us to briefly describe our background in farming and reasons for choosing organic methods. By my standards, the following text is brief, though I understand if not all readers make it to the bottom. Just wait until I get to the more detailed sections of the application!
Our background in farming
We both grew up in rural areas, with families that gardened and preserved food. We met while working toward graduate degrees in geology in the same department, and were drawn together partly by our shared love of food, cooking, & local foods/farmers markets. After graduate school, we moved to Virginia to work at Shenandoah National Park, and became involved with a nearby sustainable CSA farm. Joanna worked there regularly opposite her 1/2 time SNP job, and Eric (full time) helped out as often as he could.
We had already decided that when we settled down, we wanted to live a homestead-style life, with a single income and a homemaker growing/raising most of our food (similar to how we grew up). Working at Waterpenny Farm exposed us to more of the realities and possibilities in farming for a living (not just for ourselves) and inspired us to seriously consider that as a life choice. A new job opening for Joanna led us to move to mid-Missouri, where the cost of living was far lower, the niche for direct-market farmers was much wider (compared to the East Coast), and a better job made single-income living while starting a farm possible. We moved onto our current land in mid-2006 and founded Chert Hollow Farm. We have sold produce at market for the last two years (2007, 2008) and are regularly expanding our production areas and farm offerings.
Our choice of organic management practices
There has never really been any choice in that matter. We were both raised in families that strongly valued conservation and respect for natural systems, and carried those values into our initial career pursuits in research and educational geology. Our training and research in geomorphology, and human effects on landscapes, strongly influenced our belief in sustainable land management. Our interest in food and cooking led us to learn about food production practices and their environmental & political ramifications, and the more we learned the faster we transitioned our food choices toward local/sustainable/organic options. Working at Waterpenny Farm solidified those beliefs with experience, as that farm used all sustainable methods and felt very strongly about the long-term sustainability of their soil, land, and environment. This was our initial practical exposure to “organic” methods, supplemented by a heavy diet of research and reading (we are scientists, after all).
With regards to our current farm, we believe very strongly in sustainability, independence, and freedom. We want to limit our reliance on inputs, resources, and factors that we cannot control and do not approve of, such as manufactured fertilizers and pesticides. Organic methods provide a means to that end by emphasizing closed loops, natural methods, and long-term benefits over short-term efficiencies. We value our independence and property rights, and organic certification gives us a stronger tool to defend ourselves from off-farm threats such as government spray programs. Although we have significant philosophical concerns regarding the implementation of the government organic program, we feel it is important that our beliefs and methods are recognized (especially in Missouri), and certification is the only way we will be noticed by those who make policy. We also feel that organic certification will help us become better farmers by forcing us to question, analyze, and describe our plans, methods, and inputs. Much of the record-keeping and planning needed for certification are things that farmers like us could benefit from, and we might as well get the full benefit of the work.
In summary, we believe strongly in Thomas Jefferson’s ideal of the educated, self-sufficient, politically active farmer. Organic methods lead us toward environmental and economic sustainability, and organic certification grants us a political voice. Together, those goals represent our vision for the future.