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Agrarian Harvest

Wholesome. Organic. Experience. All about our farm, food, and small farm life.

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Does Organic Mean What You Think it Means?

When we started farming, we followed the organic rules for years before we actually certified. The first and second years of certification were very simple. The third year was very irritating. They decided to audit our winter squash; asking how many acres we had. Guess they are not used to dealing with small producers and also did not read the application documentation that provided the information they were asking about.  I told them that we had 200 plants. They said that they could calculate that out. They asked how much we harvested. I showed them my sales records. They then asked how much I had stored. I told them that I only harvested what was sold. Anything left over after frost became pig food. They wanted to know how much the pigs ate. I answered honestly and said I did not know. This was a big problem for them. My records were not audit-able according to them since I didn’t weigh every squash left in the field. Should I have lied and said some random number of pounds? They issued my certificate in spite of my failure to weigh every rotten squash that the pigs ate. Multipurpose ground like cropland and grazing is too complicated for inspectors or their expectation of farmers is industrial.

Since I started certifying organic, my inspection was done in the spring and all of my fees were paid before July. This allowed me to apply for assistance with certification prior to an October 31 deadline. This year I was inspected in late summer and did not receive a bill prior to the October 31 deadline and will not be eligible for the assistance. That will cost this farmer around $700; that’s a lot of tomatoes. My certifying agency claimed that there were a lot of new farms wanting to certify and our inspection was late because they wanted to get the new facilities done first. So to the back burner I go, behind the mega dairies and corporate farms looking for the big money.

Another item of concern this year is that the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) voted to allow hydroponic and aquaponic production into the Organic program. This means that soil is not required. If soil is not required the plants can only get nutrients from the farmer. There are no healthy soil microorganisms, no fungi, no bacteria, no beneficial life forms to help release micronutrients to the plants. If the nutrients are not provided in the system they cannot end up in our food to nourish us. There are also no microorganisms or adequate sun exposure to breakdown or compete with harmful products or bacteria. Yes, beneficial bacteria and fungi in the soil can protect us against harmful organisms.

So what does the Organic Label mean to me? At this point, I am in limbo. Most of our customers know who we are. They know our practices and are welcome to come inspect anytime they want and would likely buy from us even if we dropped our certification. We are after all a very small farm. At 17 acres, we actually consider ourselves market gardeners. Our production can be large enough though that we need some larger outlets like restaurants and grocery stores. These customers typically look for the Organic Certification when paying our prices. Their customer do not know who we are and thus depend on a third party verification that we are following acceptable methods of food production. But do the consumers actually know what Organic means? Do they know that their product may be raised in a chemical soup provided by a hydroponic system?  Do they know that broad spectrum chemicals like Neem oil that are approved for use as an insecticide in organic production?  Do they know that farms (big farms) can petition to get chemicals accepted because their system is broken and they want to resort to a chemical to “fix” their problem?

At our farm, we have had infestations, some were fixed by an army of lady bugs and others resulted in destroyed crops. We are diverse and learn to roll with it and try to use crop rotation and plant selection to avoid future problems. When you are a mega farm in a mono crop system, you are not as agile and go back to the bottle at the first sign of stress.

We want to call out consumers. What do you think of when you purchase food? Are you looking for the best price? Are you looking for nutrient density? Are you looking for pesticide-free? Are you looking for humane animal husbandry? Do you care about the people who grow your food?  Do you want to know the farm your food came from or is it just the labeling that matters? Does your food come with a warranty?

Update: Help Us Be Farmers Again

We have had amazing, positive response to our  post, Help Us Be Farmers Again. We thank everyone for their responses and trying to help us figure out a better way for marketing and distributing produce. We appreciate all the feedback we are hearing. We know there has been some concern and worry among some of our customers also. We would like to share our plan with you and say please do not worry. And a special thank you to all those that are now coming to the farm to buy and working with our partners at Freshocal and Kraay’s Market & Garden.  

At this time, we plan to continue to be at the Ketchum and Hailey Farmers’ Markets. We will also continue to do wholesale deliveries in the Wood River Valley.

In the Magic Valley, we will be cutting down on the days we will be at the Twin Falls farmers’ market. We are planning on being there, the first and third Saturday of the month. However, this month we won’t be there on the third Saturday, but will on the fourth. Watch the Twin Falls Farmers’ Market facebook page or our Agrarian Harvest facebook page , we post on there if we will not be there. Even though we aren’t at market our products are still available, everyday of the week, either by coming to the farm to buy on Mondays or Wednesdays (4 pm to 6 pm) or order and pick up or get it delivered through Freshocal (freshocal.com).

We are a dynamic, intensive farm. We are trying to get that work/ life balance figured out. Balancing family life, production and marketing is a huge challenge and not just for us. After visiting with other farmers, we found that is a very common theme during the growing season that farmers struggle with: the demands of the farm, demands of the consumer, and demands of the family. We don’t only like to farm but also to think outside the box and try new things. We wouldn’t be growing produce for a living if we didn’t think outside the box and want to do something different than “normal agriculture”. So we don’t want to worry our customers, only to inform of issues that may not of been seen or thought. We are honored to be your farmers and to have your help and support making sure everybody’s need are met in the farm to consumer relationship.

Help Us Be Farmers Again

This blog was started to write about farm life and happenings on the farm. Honestly, I’m finding that very hard to do lately. Here is why . . . . .

When we set out to be farmers that grow produce years ago, we never saw ourselves where we are today . . . . on the road four days a week going to farmers’ markets, delivering and paying an employee to do the farming. Our purpose was to grow organic produce and get it in the hands and mouths of as many people as we could without leaving the farm. Our vision was to be a family working happily together to grow, eat and sell organic produce. We are no longer a family happily working together . . . .  we are exhausted and spend our days crowded in the car . . . . we aren’t even doing the farming anymore!

We have become traveling salespeople and delivery drivers. People now expect to be delivered to, for everything, including food. When a farmer leaves the farm most days of the week, he is no longer a farmer. When a farmer is off the farm, the farm work is not getting done. So how are we supposed to be growing food when we are having to leave the farm to deliver it and sale at farmers’ markets four days a week? We aren’t! We have to pay a H-2A employee to do the farming because it’s very hard to find people in our community that are willing to come to the farm to help do the work to grow the produce that they want to buy. So if we are on the road doing sales, markets and delivering most days of the week, are we still your farmers? We don’t think so. Our hands aren’t in the dirt doing the growing anymore. We help with harvest, but we are no longer able to tend the plants and be on the farm as our vision started. That is not what we want to be.  We want and need to be the ones on the farm doing the work. Therefore, consumer need to be willing to go to the farm to buy food or have a sales and delivery service deliver, which we have found for you (details below). We don’t want to be doing three farmer’s markets a week, we would prefer to only harvest what is needed.

Now let’s talk farmer’s markets for a moment. What is a farmers’ market? It is suppose to be a location where farmers come together to sell their food directly from the farm. It is more than just a couple of hours off the farm to sell my goods, it’s full days . . . . the markets have rules that require us to be there two hours before market starts and we have to unload a whole 16 foot trailer of produce instead being able to sell out of our trailer or vehicle.  Here is a huge issue we have with farmer’s markets, we never know how much is going to sell or how many people are going to be at market each week. So we harvest as much as we can and end up with waste! So it is a waste of our time to harvest it and now the excess produce is thrown out or fed to the animals. Farmers’ markets would be great if it was just a couple of hours to do the sales and if we didn’t have to set up a mini grocery store on the street. Honestly, farmers’ markets are exhausting, they aren’t geared toward or convenient for the farmer and we end with too much wasted produce.

We feel we have turned into a mini grocery store on wheels. That is not and never was our vision or purpose for farming. Farmers need to be on the farm growing the food. We would love to see all our customers come to the farm to buy, but we also know that is not feasible for some. So we are very happy to now offer our products through delivery services in the Magic Valley and the Wood River Valley. In the Magic Valley, you can buy our products through Freshocal,  freshocal.com. You order on their website, we harvest just for you, they come to the farm to get it and deliver to you. Freshocal  In the Wood River Valley, you can order through Kraay’s Market & Garden, kraaysmarketgarden.grazecart.com . You order on their website Sunday and Mondays, we harvest, and they deliver on Wednesdays.  Kraay’s Market & Garden  This is a dream come true for exhausted farmers that are trying to find a way to be farmers again.

We may be willing to do one farmers’ market a week, but anymore than that and we are not farmers anymore. We need your help to be farmers again. Our plea to our customers is to come to the farm to buy from us directly or buy through one of the above marketing and delivery services. So try it, let us know what you think and help us figure this thing out. If you have any trouble ordering any of our products from Freshocal or Kraay’s, please let us know and we will help you.

We can’t keep going at the pace we have been of constant traveling to deliver and do markets. Something needs to change. We are setting out to figure this thing out, we want to go back to our roots . . . . our original vision and purpose . . .  to be your farmers, we want to do the growing for you and not pay someone else to do it. And where do you find farmers? On the farm! Please help us be farmers again!

For those of you that already come to the farm to buy and pick-up CSAs, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You share the same vision and purpose with us. You are allowing us to be the farmers we set out to be.

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