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   San Juan Capistranos' Organic Farm & Farmstand     

About Organics

"To be interested in food and not in food production is clearly absurd."   Wendell Berry

My first introduction to organic farming was in Santa Barbara in the late 1970's. A few growers there were following the principles of Howard, Steiner and Rodale.  At the time I was just starting my farming life. What I thought I knew then I have forgotten. It was all misinformation. I' m better now though and well on my way into Organic Farming 102!

Organic farming is an ever-changing harvest of principles, values and commitment.  This commitment is to the Earth and Community we live on and in!. Organic farming is a farmer being a part of that Community and a caretaker of the Earth.  It is about the Community supporting a local farming family by choosing to buy their fruits and vegetables from that family.  In turn the farmer provides delicious varieties of fruits and vegetables  grown safely using organic techniques.  Great food and farmland preservation.  Great Idea!

There is lot of consternation in the Organic farmland today.  Whereas before organic growers believed in Organic as a lifestyle and a commitment to Earth, today many growers are entering the organic arena as a marketing strategy. These growers are practitioners of what I call the Substitute Organic Growers Law.  This is a sub theorem of Supply & Demand.  The huge corporate farms which  dominate farming today saw a demand from the huge corporate supermarkets!  Quickly they did their studies, certified fields, substituted N-P-K and were on their way.   

These large growers farm conventionally, with dangerous chemicals, side by side with their "organic" divisions. Often they fumigate a field conventionally, that is poison the earth, wait three years, certify, substitute and saturate organic farming with mainstream thought. 

It is a very complex issue, but in the end I suppose we need to be grateful for any organic farms! However, there is no substitute at any grocery store for homegrown, fresh picked, fruits and vegetables which are grown for flavor not durability!! 

Below are some articles of interest regarding the Organic Movement. I copied it off the web!     Who puts all that information at our fingertips?

The Organic Farming Movement: Trailblazers, Heroes and Pioneers
by David Kupfer

The Organic Farming Movement: Trailblazers, Heroes and Pioneers In late December of 2000 the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced final adoption of the first standards the federal government has ever imposed for the labeling and processing of organic foods. The new standards ban the use of irradiation, biotechnology and sewage-sludge fertilizer for any food product labeled organic. When the department introduced proposed regulation in 1997, all three of these methods were permitted. After nearly 300,000 people wrote letters of protest opposing their inclusion, the department withdrew that proposal and started again.

Also banned is the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers in organic food crops, as well as the use of antibiotics in all meat labeled organic. While the Bush administration could try to overturn the rule (which does not become fully effective until 2002), there is little such expectation, considering the high level of public support and vitality of organic sales.

The organic farming movement and organic foods industry have been growing at a remarkable rate in recent years. Sales of organic commodities in natural food stores approached $3.3 billion in 1998, compared with $2.08 billion in 1995, according to industry sources. Sales of organic products in conventional supermarkets are also rising. Industry experts expect the current average annual growth rate of 20-24 percent for organic food sales to continue over the next decade. Such growth is profoundly transforming the organic foods industry, and the implementation of the USDA's recently adopted national organic program is furthering this momentum.

Indeed, the new federal standards are impacting the form, function and scale of organic farming in America. In the U.S., organic farming represents the fastest growing sector of the agriculture economy. In 1999, the country's second-largest conventional lettuce grower (Tanimura and Antle) and the U.S.'s largest organic vegetable shipper (Natural Selection Foods, marketer of the Earthbound Farm brand) became partners in supplying organic lettuce to large chain supermarkets. One of the finest emblems of the 1960's hippie subculture has come of age. Organics have become big business.

The Early Trailblazers

A few individuals served as catalysts in the transition toward a more sustaining, permanent, chemical-poison-free agriculture, providing both the academic and experiential basis for what is now a global movement, a growing economic force worldwide, and a way of life for organic farmers. These innovators offered the technical and philosophical backdrop for the mainstreaming of organic foods and farming that occurred when the flower children's "back to nature" movement converged with the broader, anti-pesticide, anti-war, anti-agribusiness sentiment so characteristic of the youth movement of the 1960s and 70s.

In the early 1900s, Sir Albert Howard, a British colonial officer with the lengthy title of Chemical Botanist to the Government of the Raj at Pusa in India, carried out a variety of noted agricultural experiments. The area of India where he worked was so poor that local farmers could not afford to buy fertilizers imported from other areas. Observing the reaction of properly grown varieties of plants subjected to insects and other pests, Howard found the primary factor in soil management was a consistent supply of fresh humus prepared with vegetable and animal wastes, and that maintaining soil fertility was the fundamental basis for its health. He felt that crops grown on land treated in such a way resisted the pests that were rife in the region, and that this resistance was passed onto the livestock when they were fed on such crops. He believed it was better to adapt a species to local conditions through breeding, rather than to force a western strain to grow there by using chemicals.

Howard essentially reinvented the compost pile and propagated methods to best use the natural resources of India. He studied the root systems of plants which had been largely ignored by botanists, discovered the mycorrhizae fungi symbiotic relationship with some plant roots, and especially eschewed the fragmented approach of current agriculture research which separates soil, crops, livestock and humans.

In his landmark 1940 book, An Agriculture Testament, he argued that relying on artificial fertilizers was unwise, as it could not maintain and perpetuate farmland indefinitely. Though he had many adherents, some of his research was flawed, and he was at the time widely ignored by the mainstream. An extraordinary scientist, Howard's many advances for the cause of organic agriculture caused him to be considered the founder of the modern organic movement.

Another organic pioneer, Rudolf Steiner, introduced the tenets of Anthroposophy, which combined science with philosophy and spirituality. Steiner gave a series of lectures on the subject of agriculture from his Anthroposophic perspective. His whole systems approach to farming coupled spiritual concepts with practical ones, and his lectures, compiled in his 1924 book Agriculture, were the basis for forms of agriculture called Biodynamics. While some of the applied techniques of biodynamics, such as the widely adopted biodynamic composting techniques, have had a profound impact on the evolution and character of organic farming, much of its philosophy demanding dedicated spiritual commitment has not caught on with organic farmers in the U.S. However, throughout Europe, particularly in Germany, there are thousands of biodynamic farms and biodynamic products commercially available.

U.S. Pioneers

While Henry Wallace is remembered more as the Vice President under Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II, and Progressive Party candidate for President in 1948, he possessed a deep passion for land and ecology. Serving as Secretary of Agriculture from 1933 to 1940, he was at the helm of the USDA commitment to health, conservation and soil restoration. Wallace began as USDA chief while one of the worst ecological disasters in the nation's history, the Dust Bowl, was raging. Caused by prolonged drought in the early 1930s, 1934 alone saw more than 300 million tons of precious topsoil blow away.

The Soil Conservation Service was established under him in 1935 with the primary aim, according to Wallace, "to conserve fertility, prevent soil erosion and promote good land use." He was especially concerned that — unlike all other aspects of the nation's economic life such as labor and capital — the "voiceless land" could not speak for itself. Though few shared his views at the time, Wallace favored natural resource planning on a national scale, with decisions based on conservation and long-term social values rather than on market prices. Fortunately, many of Wallace's conservation concerns were integrated into federal government policy for lasting value to the soil.

As Head of Soils for the University of Missouri, William Albrecht (1888-1974) was a leading promoter of the idea that improving the soil by fertilization and increasing the organic matter improved the nutritive value of forage. His extensive experiments with growing plants and animals substantiated his observations that a declining soil fertility (due to a lack of organic material, major elements and trace minerals) was responsible for poor crops, and in turn, for pathological conditions of animals (including humans) fed deficient foods from such soils.

In the 1930s, a "back to the land" movement, known then as the "Country Life Movement," began in which city dwellers chose to move to the country in favor of a simpler life. Perhaps the best remembered and most influential leader of that movement is author Louis Bromfield, who hailed the "new agriculture developing slowly in America for the past 30 years," wherein "observant and intelligent farmers, school teachers, bureau or academic men, men and women in back gardens or an acre or two have been watching their soil, living with it, feeling it under their feet, learning from it."

One of the most successful American authors of his time, Bromfield received a Pulitzer Prize in 1927, at the age of 31, for his acclaimed novel Early Autumn. In the 1930s, he was a wealthy expatriate living in France, writing such novels as his fictional family biography, The Farm. Tired of life in Europe and sensing the upcoming conflict, Bromfield returned to his native Ohio in 1939 and used his wealth and interest in agriculture to create Malabar Farm, named for the coast in India, which became the most widely known experimental farm in America.

Over the next 20 years, Bromfield wrote a series of five books which poetically documented his work at Malabar Farm and captured the love and rapture that can come from farming in harmony with nature. Demonstrating to neighboring farmers (sometimes thousands at a time) how traditional agriculture practices, crop rotations, livestock manures and old fashioned care for the land could restore worn-out soil and build healthy productive farms, Bromfield was an eloquent advocate and spokesperson for the organic farming movement.

Also from this era, self-labeled experimental farmer, utopian social critic and best-selling author Edward Faulkner is remembered for his 1943 book Plowman's Folly, and for his ideas about permanent agriculture. He put forth a timely critique of current farming practices and the negative applications of science and technology, while presenting solutions rooted on ecologically based husbandry that stressed societal permanence as a goal.

Faulkner attacked the tradition in America of abusing soil through the continual use of the moldboard plow as a tool for soil preparation. He devised a plan to heal the earth from past abuses through a concept he called "trash farming" or "trash mulch culture." Faulkner's proposition was to incorporate large amounts of organic material (weeds, crop residues, green manures) into the soil to rebuild it much as ancient peasant agricultural societies had done for centuries. His theories about trash farming and social change represented a bold shift in U.S. agricultural practices towards greater stewardship and ecological accountability, and were broadly circulated and discussed by prominent national figures and ordinary citizens. The moldboard plow that he decried has completely vanished from American farming.

Rodale's Legacy

Perhaps the most influential individual who impacted the movement back toward organic farming in the 20th century was J.I. Rodale, who came to the field without any agricultural experience or training. Heavily influenced by Sir Albert Howard's book An Agricultural Testament, Rodale rebelled against chemical agriculture by writing about and discussing organics. In 1940, he purchased a 60-acre experimental organic farm near Emmaus, Pennsylvania, to demonstrate his ideas. Also in 1940, Austrian biochemist Ehrenfried Pfeiffer fled the Nazi regime and, settling in Kimberton, Pennsylvania, established the Kimberton Farm School, a biodynamic model farm. Pfieffer became a protégé of Rudolf Steiner in 1921, and Kimberton Farm is where many early organic farmers learned their craft.

Rodale first used the word "organic" to describe the natural method of gardening and farming, mainly because compost, humus and the organic fraction of the soil were emphasized so strongly. In 1942 he began publishing the magazine Organic Gardening and Farming, declaring that organic methods were more than just a way to husband the soil and grow plants and animals. He proclaimed that to be "organic" was more than just a way to know and understand the lessons of nature in all ways, and to use that knowledge to evaluate all of the "blessings" of science and technology.

What good was it, he asked, to grow food without using chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and then to process that food so that vitamin and mineral content would be seriously depleted? Not caring if he was labeled an extremist or crackpot, Rodale created what might be called a "strict constructionist" interpretation of natural life under the banner of organiculture. If it is synthetic, avoid it, he said. If it goes through a factory, examine it with special care. Follow the dictates of the cycle of life when growing things, he advised, and you will be blessed with foods of surpas- sing taste and quality that are less troubled by insects or disease. Rodale Press went on to become — and still remains — the leading publisher on the subjects of popular health, nutrition and organic gardening.

Lady Eve Balfour distinguished herself by her ability to communicate and demystify science, bringing it back to earth and into the hands of ordinary people. Equally notable was her moral leadership and courage in her work in a period when her ideas ran against the grain of mainstream thought. Balfour studied agriculture at the University of Reading and began farming in Suffolk in 1915. In 1939 she started a unique and pioneering experiment which was the first ecologically designed agricultural research project on a full-farm scale.

According to her, the project was "set up to fill the gap in the evidence on which the claims for the benefits of organic husbandry were based. It was decided that the only way to achieve this was to observe and study nutrition cycles, functioning as a whole, under contrasting methods of land use, but on the same soil and under the same management, the purpose being to assess what effect, if any, the different soil treatments had on the biological quality of the produce grown thereon, including its nutritive value as revealed through its animal consumers." This work had never been done before. Balfour published her research in 1943, in her landmark book The Living Soil. Through her multi-disciplinary, holistic approach she illuminated the subject for many people and created a new approach to food, agriculture and health.

Out of the meeting convened to discuss her work in 1946 was formed the Soil Association in Britain, and Lady Balfour continued her pivotal comparative studies between organic and conventional farming on her own farm. Today the Soil Association continues to be one of the leading organizations in Britain active in organic food and farming, certifying the organic produce in that nation. (For more information, see their website: www.soilassociation.org.)

Another seminal figure of the ecological movement who helped invent and define the notion of a land ethic was Aldo Leopold. His Sand County Almanac, published posthumously in 1949, began as a series of essays on the changes of seasons and their effect on ecological balance. Leopold called for nothing less than a revolution in human consciousness and proposed an ecological conscience as the basis for collective responsibility. He wanted a land ethic to be part of the hearts and minds of all Americans so they would act freely in ecologically responsible ways. As a moral philosopher and teacher, Leopold turned the science of ecology into a didactic statement aimed at the moral instruction of his fellow citizens.

Through their lives, books and work as homesteaders, Helen and Scott Nearing inspired a generation desiring to get back to the land. In the 1920s, Scott Nearing was a progressive reformer, socialist critic and university professor who lost his job due to his radical politics. After he and his partner Helen became practicing homesteaders in the 1930s, they went on to write, in 1954, the bestseller Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World, a practical handbook on sustainable living as an antidote to consumerism and environmental destruction.

The Nearings built their own homes, grew their own food, and achieved virtual cult status in the following years, providing inspiration to a legion of young people who in the 1960s and '70s were seeking a simpler life based on the principles of sustainability, ecological agriculture and self-reliance.

Alan Chadwick is largely credited as the founder of the biodynamic/French intensive school of horticulture. This innovative method synthesized traditional horticulture practices and observations from the Greek, Chinese and Roman cultures on through 19th-century French market gardens — folk techniques with modern scientific validity. As an applied, aesthetic horticulturalist, he had an incalculable impact on the development and growth of the organic farming movement. Chadwick ignited countless students who observed and engaged in his technique, most notably practiced at University of California at Santa Cruz and the San Francisco Zen Center's Green Gulch retreat in Marin County. Chadwick's emphasis on working with nature, rather than overpowering it, struck a chord with young people. The Garden and Farm at UC Santa Cruz served as a magnet for students interested in small-scale, organic agriculture and continues to inspire and teach people from around the world the methods that Chadwick introduced. The early activities of the UCSC Farm and Garden very much presaged what would become the mass movement toward organic farming and sustainable agriculture, and evolved into the Agroecology Program (now known as the UCSC Center for Agroecology and Food Systems). This was the first University of California project to focus on what has come to be known as "sustainable " agricultural systems, and to pursue research on organic production techniques.

Writer Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, published in 1962, also had a profound impact. Carson successfully bundled the diverse aspects of information about pesticide abuse and ubiquitous exposure, biological magnification and environmental impact into a narrative that flowed and was understandable to the general public, not steeped in science. Written with a biologist's eye and a poet's soul, it revealed just how widespread the use of pesticides and herbicides had become, what the poisons were doing to plant and animal ecology, and how residues were traveling in the food chain from ponds and topsoil into the nation's diet. It became an instant best-seller.

Carson had reluctantly begun a war against the better- living-through-chemistry crowd in agriculture and government. By the end of 1962, more than 40 bills in different state legislatures had been introduced governing the regulation of pesticide use. Silent Spring was the impetus for the founding, in 1967, of the Environmental Defense Fund, which later led the battle to ban DDT. Silent Spring has been called one of the most influential books of the 20th century, and Carson was selected by Life magazine as one of the 100 most important Americans of the 20th century. Forty years later, the book is still in print. More recent literary offerings include the philosophical, ecologically centered writings of Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson and Gene Logsdon.

From the purist view of followers of Japan's Masanobu Fukuoka, who advocates "no tillage, no fertilizer, no pesticides, no weeding and no pruning," to the deep-ecology perspective of permaculture as manifest by its founder Bill Mollison, there has always been a wide range of variation in organic practices. As big business begins to subvert what was once seen as the fringe, unconventional, even freaky practice of growing food organically, it is vital to recall and appreciate the spirit of those who conspired to inspire a global movement toward chemical-free, clean food.

David Kupfer is an environmental acivist and consultant, and an organic farmer and advocate. He is working on a video and book on the history of the organic movement in California. He can be reached at harpo@well.com.

OMRI: Organic Materials Research Institute

What does OMRI listed mean? 

OMRI, Organic Materials Review Institute, is a nonprofit organization created to provide professional, independent and transparent review of materials and compatible processes allowed to produce, process and handle organic food and fiber. OMRI was created to benefit the organic community and the general public.  Its primary mission is to publish and disseminate generic and specific (brand name) lists of materials allowed and prohibited in organic production.  OMRI’s role is advisory and educational; final decisions regarding certification and regulatory policy reside with other organizations.  The OMRI logo assures the product’s compliance to OMRI’s comprehensive product review process.  Think of it as the “Seal of Approval” for organic growers.

We at South Coast Farms are grateful to the good folks at OMRI and are subscribers to and concientious followers of their "lists"!

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