Organic farmers discuss environmental benefits of organic farming

May 04, 2016 No Comments by

by Gabby Jorio and Mallery Rockwell

Mary Newman has been pitching her Buried Treasures Organic Farm stand at the Ithaca Farmers’ Market for 8 years. This year, her stand is filled with organically grown crops including potatoes, onions, shallots and beets.

She is among many organic farmers who enjoyed the first sunny weekend at the Ithaca Farmers’ Market on April 16 by selling fresh produce and meats at their stands.

The Ithaca Farmers’ Market is home to many organic farmers. Lucy Garrison, a farmer at the Stick and Stone Farm located on Trumansburg Road, said selling organic at markets is a good opportunity to spread information about organic farming.

“When you’re selling at a market, you have the opportunity to talk to somebody so that you can explain what it is you’re doing,” she said.

Garrison was exposed to organic farming as a kid, when her parents grew their own vegetables. What she said she learned from them is that the root to successful farming is having a good environment to grow crops in. If a plant is grown in good conditions, extra nutrients do not need to be used to keep it that way. These extra nutrients may attract more insects and disease.

“So we start off with a good healthy plant, and we don’t have to do a lot of work to keep it that way,” Garrison said.

Organic farming avoids using synthetic chemicals or fertilizers to grow crops.

Organic farmer Shannon Ratcliff said if grain crops are not being monitored by farmers, production should stop immediately — unmonitored production like this likely means chemicals are used in the process.

“So what they do is they spray a chemical that’s used in Roundup on to the crop right before it’s harvested … so a lot of the grain we’re eating, certain grains that we’re eating that goes into breads, has been basically sprayed before it’s harvested,” she said. “It’s scary. I don’t think people think through it, what’s going on here.”

Ratcliff works at a 127-acre farm on the west side of Seneca Lake called Shannon Brook Farm. The farm raises pork and poultry on pasture, grass-fed lamb and eggs. She said she thinks growing animals organically is healthier, but there is a pitfall: Animals that might be labeled as having been raised organically may be falsely labeled if they were given any amount of antibiotics and other meds.

“Like if you say you need this organic, but you’re using birth hormones or antibiotics or other medications, you’ve broken the law,” Ratcliff said. “That’s not organic.”

However, if an animal is sick, organic farmers are obligated to treat it with medications, but they can’t sell it. Even if a sick sheep is pregnant with a lamb, the lamb would not be considered organic either.

The farmers at the Farmers’ Market conclude that organic farming is more efficient and better for the environment. Studies show that the profitability of organic farming depends on the crop. The United States Department of Agriculture found that organic corn and soybeans were profitable, but only because of the price premiums paid. Wheat, on the other hand, has not been found to be profitable. Price premiums for organic wheat were at or below the economic production costs for 2011 and 2012. The profitability increased from 2013 to 2014. Profitability can be caused by climate and market challenges.

Mary Newman recognizes these challenges with organic farming. Especially with Ithaca’s unusual weather patterns this year, crops can be difficult to grow. She said the key is to grow a large variety, in case a crop ends up being altered by the weather. lack of winter and then unexpected colder weather later in the season.

“I think it’s the new normal, actually, the roller coaster weather,” Newman said. “I think that’s something we’re gonna have to get used to.”

However, Newman still thinks that organic farming should be the only way crops are grown.

“I don’t think there’s any other way that people should be growing because there’s too much at stake — it’s our bodies, it’s our planet, it’s our community,” she said. “It’s just not nice to put poison on your food.”

Agriculture, Display slider, Farming

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