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The Real Cost of a Cheap Carrot

We are bewildered how some folks insist certified organics is a rip-off and a sham only to cite information penned by corporate advocates to back up their claim. Its as if any opinion floating around on the internet is weighted equal to that of a peer reviewed document and no amount of rational discussion, no amount of scrutinized analysis will budge the nay sayers from their conventionally rooted position. In short the cost of an organic carrot can not be justified.

Going forward lets assume those claims are correct. Further, lets assume we concur and this morning we awake convinced with the knowledge that certified organic farming is a rip-off and a sham and we shall proceed in a conventional manner.


What will this mean to our farm? What will we do different having rid ourselves from the shackles of the Canadian Organic Regime.

Well, we will look to the conventional farms in our area and take guidance from them. Fortunately we need to look no further than to a plot of farmland in our community that was recently sold to a conventional farmer.

We will look to this farmer for inspiration.

First, this farmer cut down every tree on the old farmland and piled them up in three substantial heaps… 

Plastic In Burn Pile
Burn Pile
… added garbage including plastic.

Plastic in Burn Pile
Plastic in Burn Pile

Then used diesel fuel as an accelerant to light all three burn piles.  

Burn Piles

Two of which were dangerously close to the buffer zone of a certified organic farmer.

Buffer Zone Blaze
Organic Buffer Zone with Conventional Fire by Beyond

What doesn’t burn is simply buried.

Just Bury It

Including tree stumps, empty pesticide cans, and herbicide containers.

These items could have been recycled but that takes time and time is money. One must keep the costs to a minimum. Besides a chemical company representative said his stuff was potable. Yes, he actually said that. Sad the birds, deer, pets and pollinators can’t read. 

Skull and Cross Bone Warning
Skull and Cross Bone Warning

We will learn a lot from this farmer…

…Obviously not all conventional farmers are as self-entitled as this farmer. Not by a long shot.

Most conventional farmers are very aware of the effects of their actions upon the environment. But without third party oversight conventional farms unlike certified organic farms are not accountable for their farming practices.

Conventional farmers are not mandated to be stewards of the land like certified organic producers.

Regardless, the quality of the land, the sustainability of the soil is not at the top of the list. Cover cropping for soil health, water conservation, and habitat provision for pollinators is no longer a priority. 

Mustard for Pollinators
One of our Garlic Fields Cover Cropped with Mustard
So what are some of things we as new conventional farmers can do that certified organic farmers are forbidden.

The first thing to consider is to prepare all our property to the fence line and put it under production. Consequently any riparian zones, hedgerows and forested wild zones on our property would be in jeopardy. These habitat areas are expected to be identified on the organic farm plan however, the absence of organic oversight releases any pressure to preserve these zones.  Now that land can be devoted to something immediately tangible. Carrots perhaps. 

Next thing we would do is consider the use of herbicides and pesticides because that would eliminate the need to get down on our hands and knees and weed two miles of three-foot wide rows of garlic as we used to.

That is a buzzkill. Literally.

We can farm the soil and not worry about replacing organic matter to rebuild tilth.  We needn’t bother with nitrogen fixing cover crops, biofumigation with mustard, depending on the allelopathy and competition of the fall rye we used to put down to control weeds, remediate compaction and conserve soil from erosion. No need to maintain clover, mustard, hairy vetch, or wild flowers for the local pollinators.

Organophosphate and organothiophosphate , 4 hydrocarbon derivative herbicides and 5 inorganic fungicides and insecticides will eliminate the pollinators as well as the unwanted pests. Not to mention the birds that prey upon the insects.

For every farm that farms this way a massive amount of habitat is lost as well as the multitude of animal species thriving in those riparian zones.

Which brings to mind the rodents. We’re now allowed to use rat poison so we would next lay out some rat poison.

At risk here are the great horned owls that nest in our bird sanctuary every year.

Nesting Owlet
Fledged Great Horned Owlet Nesting Outside our Backdoor

The owls do a great job keeping the vermin down however according to an acquaintance who is employed at the South Okanagan Rehabilitation Centre for Owls  only about 10-15 owls a year are inflicted with stomachs of poisoned mice.  Those numbers seem to justify the risk.

We no longer require special handling and storage requirements of chemicals, farm fuels, oils and lubricants. In short we no longer require a containment area. There are no specific provincial regulations to govern petroleum storage tanks. There are suggested best practices, but we know there is no oversight. 

The added bonus in all this is we no longer are required to maintain a buffer zone. That becomes the purview of certified organic farmers and it is they who must maintain a 20 foot buffer zone from our fence lines because of our potential chemical drift and overspray. Fortunately it is not up to us to contain our sprays and our organic neighbours will have to compensate for our use of substances banned in organics by sequestering and selling buffer zone produce into the conventional market, even though it’s been managed exactly the same way, except our sprays drift onto it.

Interesting how the certified organic producer is required to provide the buffer zone and not the other way round.

Anyway, come potato harvest time we will be desiccating the top growth with Roundup® to make harvesting easier as it is standard operating procedure now for potato harvesting.  

Pre-Harvest Conventioanal Potato Field
Roundup® Dessicated Potatoes Ready for Harvest
Roundup® is not just for killing weeds anymore, it’s a desiccant that makes everything growing in the field ripen evenly.

If this seems over the top and facetious, it is not.

This is exactly what would happen here and has happened elsewhere. We have been trying all along to illustrate that there are far more other considerations to make when you purchase a cheap carrot than just “is this carrot good for me and what is the price point”?

Can we justify one over the other for only these narrow considerations? Should we trust the aim or conclusions of studies that focus only on narrow parameters and declare absolutes? We would hazard a guess if more people saw the way most of their food is produced, they wouldn’t feel very good about it. The question should be is it good for everything, not just my perceived immediate needs, especially the things that don’t have a voice or a say in how we alter their environment.

This just scratches the surface of the changes that would come to this farm. 

Having said this do we know any organic farmers who could do better?  Sure we do, but they actually have plans going forward how they are going to do it. Plans that are reviewed by a certification committee.  

Is this an anecdotal emotions appeal?

No, it is fact derived from direct observation of how things actually work on the ground under both systems from someone who knows.  Before you say “Yes, but that’s you on your farm, industrial organics is different, they use organic herbicides and pesticides and they’re just as bad” etc., even ‘industrial organics’ of which there is next to none here in Canada is still required to operate to the standard which precludes getting away with a multitude of things that occur on conventional farms with impunity as described above.

As outlined before, permitted substances are last resort and must be justified, permission granted, properly recorded and vastly more expensive than conventional substances so very unlikely to be overused or used inappropriately and always used with oversight. Regardless synthetic pesticides are not permitted for use in organic production.

Also keep in mind the comparison of industrial organic with conventional is really talking mostly about California and almost without exception about land that has been transitioned from intensively conventionally farmed since just after the second world war.

They ain’t making any new farm land in California. So basically ruined industrial conventional land. This land is going to take time to remediate under organic production that again, has to abide to at least the minimum of the standard with a procedure in place to improve to best practices. Of course if you are going to take a carrot from this farm and compare it to a conventional farm there will be negligible differences for the first few years.

The point is, the ecology of the farm as a whole will improve over time under the new management and that is the goal, not necessarily only providing a carrot that performs under certain criteria.

It’s not just all about the crop. It’s about soil managed in a way that would a carrot from my farm compare to a carrot from their farm? Further would that be a fair comparison given my land has always been under organic cultivation and theirs has been mined for decades? It’s silly to suggest, but what one hopes is that they’ll get there one day. At least there is some nod to stewardship and a farm plan outlining what efforts will be put in and some accountability.

Consider this; we are aware of a grain grower in Saskatchewan who transitioned to organic for health reasons.  He was initially upset because in his first year his yields were down 22%. Then he brightened and said at least he was down $150,000 in chemical inputs that he was no longer using. If it is that expensive for a conventional grower to manage his acreage with cheaper chemicals, can you imagine if organic farmers relied the same way on chemical inputs how impossible it would be? There is no impulse to use these things until it is absolutely necessary. Furthermore, do you think the chem-rep was thrilled about losing a $150,000 dollar account? There is a lot of money at stake if farmers transition away from the current model, so please do not assume there is no incentive on the part of chemical companies to obfuscate and deceive. 

Moreover certain plants secrete phytotoxins that inhibit the growth of other plants. This is called allelopathy. These crops include fall rye, oats, sunflowers, barely, wheat, mustard, buckwheat, clover, tall fescue, creeping red fescue, hairy vetch and perennial rye grass. In rotation these crops suppress weeds in subsequent crops. Intercropping some of these varieties help cover competition from a variety of weeds both broad leaf and more grassy weeds. We do the same here, intercropping rye and hairy vetch for instance. Hairy vetch fixes nitrogen and the rye provides the stem for it to climb and eliminates soil compaction. The roots go down 16-20 feet and break up the soil and bring nutrients from deep below where they are not available to most other more shallow rooted crops, aiding in soil fertility and allelopathy. That is the basics.

There is mychorrizal symbiosis with the crops because they haven’t been destroyed with fungicides which help plants immensely making them drought tolerant, they grow better, bigger and healthier as they protect against fungal invasion by producing their own defensive chemicals. They colonize the roots in the rhizosphere and act defensively. Mychorrizal fungi are destroyed in conventional farming. It’s fascinating reading if you want to look it up. It requires a lot of knowledge to farm this way.

In the last few years our grain grower in Saskatchewan has taken to hand weeding escaped herbicide resistant GE canolas which have become ‘superweeds’. They are a cross of two different herbicide resistant canola varieties due to genetic drift of their novel traits, such as the Roundup® Ready gene, that happens as a result of the spreading of pollen and seed. GE wheat would be no different and approval is being sought for its release.  So what do you think that means for his farm? Curiously, Monsanto said this could never happen.  

Consequences Monsanto needn’t care about or pay for. These weeds are choking out the ditches in some areas and putting pressure on native species and invading farmers fields. Herbicide resistant GE oats are a huge problem too since they have crossed with wild oats. If you know anything about grain farming, you’ll know that’s a really bad thing.  

Poor Farming Conditions
Poor Farming Practices

At one time all agriculture was by default organic. Jump forward to today and we need to understand it is not always about us. Our purchases have a ripple effect and with every dollar you spend you are supporting a system. 

This points to the very important area of cascade effects and are very relevant here. The problem with many studies and some people’s reaction to them is that they are predicated on only a couple of things being important. If the focus is only absolute nutritional value and/or the inherent food safety of whatever it is, lets say a carrot or a fodder crop and the price of that carrot or crop neglects huge areas of importance such as environmental and sustainability issues and social/economic ones. The narrow focus, assumes that everything is about you only. ”What am I getting out of this carrot as opposed to that carrot and can I get everything I need from this carrot at this price point”?

Here is what the narrow equation looks like:

Nutrition to me + safety to me + cost to me $ = basis for decision making.

What if the equation looked like this: 

Nutrition + safety + real environmental costs + social costs + $ = basis for decision making. 

It’s great if you can get everything that you need; that cheap carrot. 

What about everything else?

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A Bad Moment in an Otherwise Good Day

How many people can say they had only one bad day in their whole life? Just one bad day. Certainly not I.

A neighbour of ours…

I know. I refer to everyone in Cawston as a neighbour but Cawston you see is very small. Hard not be a neighbour here. One could say the community is insignificant were in not for the diverse makeup of residents who choose to call Cawston home.  Plus the fact that Cawston wears the mantle of the Organic Farming Capital of Canada. Not Saltspring Island. Cawston. Saltspring is Randy Bachman and everything rammed earth and yurt. Cawston is the Organic farming Capital of Canada. That is what the sign on the Highway says.

Highway Sign
Highway Sign

Even the Wikipedia entry on Cawston in insignificant. We are unincorporated. We do not have a community website. The URL mentioned in the photo is cleverly disguised as “404-Page not found”. We do have a Community Hall.  But again no website. Saltspring Island has a website. Perhaps as it should be. I digress.

… a neighbour of ours is Blackbird Organics. They are certified organic by S.O.O.P.A. for assorted ground crops, tree fruit, chickens, and eggs.

farmersdotter loves the free range eggs and chicken from Blackbird Organics. The eggs are fabulous. Rich and creamy with a brilliant orange yolk. The chickens are simply sublime. Every day is a day of free range fulfillment under a full sky for Blackbird’s….birds. Right up until the last day. Even then the last day really isn’t that bad. It is merely a bad moment in an otherwise good day. The moment when it was decided thou shalt end up on my plate. Perhaps as it should be. I have had more than one bad day.

Regardless, there is no duplicating the wonderful taste and texture of a free range organic bird.

To successfully roast a good organic bird requires no wizardry. farmersdotter favours a brined bird. Succulent saltiness is what we’re after and there is no other way to achieve this. Deep fry?  Deep frying a whole bird is so wrong on so many levels. There isn’t enough alcohol on Sunday football to get me to deep fry a whole bird. Yes, I have sampled whole deep fried Chicken. Not lovin’ it.

Simply brine your chicken or turkey in a container that will accept the whole bird.  We use a 20 litre food safe container. The process is forgiving but time consuming. Most important is the brine solution which consists of 1 cup kosher salt dissolved into every 4 litres of water. It is crucial the whole bird be submerged in the brine solution and appropriately chilled for the entire time.

Brine a roasting chicken for at least 4 hours while a turkey can be brined from 12 to 18 hours. After you remove the bird from the brine and have allowed it to drain, pat dry as best you can then return the bird to the refrigerator and set for a few more hours. This will nicely dry out the skin enabling it to crisp up better in the oven.

Organic Roast Chicken
Organic Roast Chicken

Preheated oven to 400 degrees and first place bird breast side down on a roasting rack and set in oven. This is to allow juices to seep down into the breast.  Remove the bird from the oven after 1/2 hour and flip so the breast side is up and continue to roast for 1/2 hour. Check temperature. The bird should be close to done. Remember there will be residual cooking and  again, a brined bird it is virtually impossible to dry out.