What I Learned on an Organic Farm.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit a humble little farm in Washington state that Gene Kahn purchased back in 1972 that would go on to be a not-so-little organic food company called Cascadian Farm.
I have to admit that I knew very little about organic farming before leaving on the trip. My definition of “organic” simply meant “no pesticide”, but I quickly learned that there were many more layers to organic than just lack of chemical use. Below are a few highlights of my trip, what I learned, and my most important takeaways.
Though the original farm only produces a teeny tiny portion of Cascadian Farm’s annual production, it was still a fabulous way to dive into the world of organic farming (especially for a novice like me!). “Farmer Jim” greeted us bright and early on a beautiful Tuesday morning in the blueberry fields to show us around the farm.
I walked down the long aisles of blueberries, seeing a few random “mummy berries” (a blueberry villain that can ruin a whole crop of blueberries, apparently) on the ground, all the while in awe of all of the manicured bushes and grounds.
Jim grabbed a pile of soil directly from the blueberry plants to show us how pure, unspoiled and nutritious the soil was, which was very much intentional and of CF’s doing (more on that below).
Organic isn’t just about omitting pesticides, as many (like myself before this trip) perceive. There are many, many criteria that organic farmers must follow and abide to to have that nifty certified stamp on their products.
- no chemical fertilizers of any kind are allowed
- to avoid weeds & pests, farmers must practice crop rotation, which means actually moving crops to new locations
- weeds are pulled by hand, tractor, flame-throwers or biological methods
- natural materials are allowed, and in some cases, synthetic
As I said earlier in the post, Cascadian Farm is responsible for this own compost that they then use as soil on their own crops.
Jim showed us this very compost pile, even sticking his hand right into the middle and pulling out warm, steamy soil. The steam and heat was caused from the chemical reaction (that went right above my head) due to the ingredients added to the compost. There is so much energy that is being created that the compost breaks down quickly, making heat and steam. I think my jaw was open the entire time Jim was explaining this because I couldn’t believe it. Science, my friends, is very cool.
FROZEN VERSES FRESH.
A big misconception about frozen fruits has been regarding the quality – is it the same, better or worse as fresh? According to Cascadian Farm, frozen is packed at peak of freshness, which locks in nutrients and creates less food waste.
It seems that every time I have mentioned the word “organic” in the past, I received the same pushback – “It’s just too expensive!” And it is, but after chatting with the folks at Cascadian Farm, I have a better understanding of why.
As I mentioned above in the “organic techniques” section, organic farming is an enormous untagging for a farmer, so manual labor is increased dramatically verses traditional practices. In other words, the care that goes into organic farming is quite high, hence the higher prices. Consumers are also receiving a higher quality food, which would also naturally bring in a higher fee.
So, as you would pay more for a nice restaurant for a better quality food, the same applies to organic foods. There is simply more care and effort put into the end product.
As a child, I was always taught to stay away from bees — they were considered bad news, they sting, you could be allergic, and so on. The thing is, though, we NEED bees and Cascadian Farm is doing everything we can do keep them safe, healthy, and ALIVE with the Bee Friendlier movement.
Bees have been in the news a lot as of late… and their story is feeling grim. Bee keepers are seeing a decline in their hive populations, bees are dying, bees are disappearing. And what will happen if they disappear? We’re in BIG trouble.
Without bees, so many of the foods we love and depend on will be gone. No peaches, no apples, no peppers, watermelon, avocados… and no blueberries. What is a life about blueberries? So, in other words, plant some wildflowers and get those bees pollinatin’ for the greater good.
So, when you pick up that next box of Cascadian Farm cereal, granola bars or frozen fruit, you have the full scoop on the love and work that goes behind their organic model, which in my opinion, makes everything taste much, much better.