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Growing Food Sustainably
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The Boulder Belt Blog The real poop about what we do. Plus news and notes about the state of organics and local foods.

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Boulder Belt Organics used to be certified organic but we decided against getting re-certified with the USDA program in 2003 for a variety of reasons. The USDA wants us to get big and go global when we want to stay small and local. There have been many attacks on the USDA rules by various corporate farms both big and small and with each attack the rules are weakened. Lately the USDA has basically said they cannot guarantee no GMO's in certified organic grains or processed foods. There has been a law suit brought about by a certified organic farmer over the lack of oversight of processed products with prohibited substances still being allowed to use the term organic on their labels. Because of these reasons and others we are going without papers. This does not mean we will be changing how we grow food for you. We will continue to practice sound sustainable growing methods and record keeping.

Growing sustainably is much more than just not using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, it's about growing and caring for the soil through cover cropping/green manures, composting and crop rotation. It means watching the processes that happen in your garden or farm environment. Our environment is a far more complex web than some would have us believe and any action has an opposite reaction. This is why one must consider lots of factors before using, say, a broad spectrum pesticide. One should ask what will this kill besides the bug I want dead? Will this chemical pollute the air, water or soil? How long will this chemical persist in the environment? And, most importantly, How will this chemical impact my health and that of my family and neighbors? When one asks such questions one has taken a big step away from using synthetic and natural pesticides indescrimanently because one starts to see how each use can greatly impact both local and non local environments. Most sustainable farms and all certified organic and biodynamic farms avoid certain inputs (an input is any seed, fertilizer, pesticide, feed, etc., that makes contact with the soil, crop or livestock). Synthetic petroleum based insecticides are banned. Plant based pesticides are allowed, though some are restricted (and a few are down right dangerous-remember just because it says it is "organic" or "natural" does not mean it cannot kill or injure a person-tsunamis are natural and quite deadly, for example). Insecticides that specifically target a certain insect , such as Bt, are preferred over broad spectrum 'cides, such as rotenone or pyrethrums, though both broad spectrum and species specific 'cides are used. IPM measures are encouraged. Synthetic fertilizers are avoided because they kill off much of the soil life, leaving soils almost dead after just a few years of use (see Soil Food Web). Composts, manures, cover crops, rock powders, livestock grazing are all ways of keeping soil healthy and growing. Organic/sustainable growers believe that healthy soil = healthy plants and when our farm/garden ecosystems are in balance there are far fewer problems from pests and diseases. This is not to say we have no pest problems. We do, but we have diverse ways of dealing with problems. We cover a lot of veggies with Row Cover to keep the bugs and weather off the plants (this also keeps pesticide drift from the nearby conventional farms and gardens from affecting our crops.) We hand pick bugs and worms off plants. We make and use homemade sprays from garlic and hot peppers. We mulch plants. We use sticky traps. We have a good crop rotation. We do not mono-crop but rather plant a wide diversity of crops on our 9 acres. And we use compost and natural mulches to build up our soils and to keep moisture in the soils. Through sound organic/sustainable growing practices, we are creating a balance in our gardens which creates healthy soil that leads to healthy plants that are very resistant to insects and disease. We also are achieving a nice balance between pest organisms and beneficial ones. We are committed to sustainable growing for our health, the health of our customers and most importantly the land's health.

Calling something "organic" legally, implies organic certification. In the USA it is illegal to call your produce, dairy, meat or fiber products organic unless they have been certified by a USDA organic certifier. Getting certified is not easy. The farm soils must be free of all prohibited substance for three years and this fact must be documented through farm input records, receipts and inspection. The process begins with filling out the application. The USDA has a 20+ page application that looks a lot like an IRS form that asks about crop rotations, every input used in the past year (three years if this is the first application), they want a farm map, weed control plan, pest control plan, soil improvement plan, boundaries/buffer zones (in Ohio it is 25' minimum between organic and other fields), livestock facilities, storage facilities, sales records, a record for every crop planted (we plant 60+ crops several times a season so that means tracking over 240 crops) etc. You must buy all OMRI approved inputs which can be very difficult to locate at first until you find the resources and can be expensive. After filling out the application you send it out with a check. Than you get inspected. The inspector will come to your farm and look over the farm, equipment, look at your records and receipts. In the past the inspector could tell you what was right and what was wrong with your operation and give you suggestions on how to make the farm better. But the USDA rule now prohibits this

The USDA's organic rule has many problems that we at Boulder Belt cannot reconcile at this time. The rule about inspectors no longer being advocates for the grower is one, than there is the compost rule which states that if a farm cannot comply to the letter with their rules on the making of compost than they are applying raw manure (this is not true as there are several ways to make finished compost that do not comply with the USDA's rules which do not seem to be written by someone who has ever made compost much less actually used it). In order to make compost according to the USDA a small farmer would have to invest a lot of time and machinery to turn and monitor the piles. More time than we Boulder belt farmer´┐Żs have. I have talked to a nearby farmer who makes 100's of tons of compost annually as a part of his farm and marketing operation and he said the rules regarding compost made no sense but that he was working to change that particular rule. We also do not like the recording keeping requirements. We keep very complete records. They track each crop variety and what is going on in each bed but this is not enough for the USDA. To comply would mean about 100 to 200 additional hours a year of record keeping. The record keeping rules seems to be aimed at farms that grow just a few crops each year, not those who have a really diversified farm that grows over 70 varieties of produce and succession plants those crops so each bed may have up to 4 crops a year in it. Each of these must be recorded making our crop count around 200. We at Boulder Belt feel that, ultimately, the USDA is making organics easier for the big corporate farms to get into, which is a positive thing in many ways. The USDA Organic rule gives everyone in the US the same standard and this is great for both consumer and grower. We now know what organic means whether we are in Oregon or Ohio. But this seems to be at the expense of the small farmers that gave rise to the organic farming movement in the first place. The national rule may be organic but it loses much of the sustainability that was one inherent in the term and practice of organic farming. That said, we find currently that certification makes little sense to our farming operation but it may in the future. For now, we will keep our practices and philosophy the same toward sustainable local agriculture as we have in the past. We just won't have a certificate to back us up.