Thankful for organic farmers

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Thankful Thursday Series

by Tiffany Shelton

I live on a small farm of seven goats, seven geese, and twelve chickens. Every morning my father-in-law prepares and serves feed for each species, and lets the birds and goats out of their pens to free range. He periodically checks on their needs while they're out. Luckily for us, we've got a plethora of leafy weeds for the goats to browse on all day. The only weeding he has to do is on our small garden of vegetables that are separated from the animals. We are blessed to live on the North Shore of Oahu. However this means that most days are hot. The heat cooks you slowly from the outside, in. Work done outside feels like it takes double the time in the heat, and by the end you’ve run out of sweat. Managing a small farm may not seem like a lot of work, but for most of the day, my father-in-law is outside.

Even with his daily work, we still need to buy produce. Though our produce is organic, the store’s may not be. Whether we are health junkies, or regular foodies, we all shy away when we see that the “organic” apples have a two dollar markup compared to the shiny red ones next to it. I’ve been trying my best to choose healthier options for my son, who is exclusively breastfed. A lot of the time, I just want to choose the cheaper option for a few extra bucks. I always think, it can't be that bad. They wouldn't sell it if it were bad… Right?

But the hard truth is, by purchasing non-organic, I support factory farming, GMOs, and sporadic use of pesticides. This translates into inhumane practices on farm animals, and potentially dangerous substances entering our bodies.

Why is farming like this these days? I wondered one day as I watched my child's grandfather chase chickens back into their pen. Of course, it's so much easier to just lock animals up all day, or use pesticides on plants, than doing the difficult labor of herding and weeding. With modern technology and the increased popularity of GMOs, doing an honest day’s work can seem silly. 

After doing a little bit of research, I found out that organic farming counts for less than 1% of all farmers in the United States. So much of US farming has been industrialized to provide faster and larger yields, but unfortunately, sacrifices quality and basic humanity towards animals at the same time.

Being an organic farmer in today's age is extremely difficult. To be certified organic, companies go to great lengths to show that every step of the production process is natural. Honey Girl Organics has to go through this every year, showing the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) that each ingredient is organic, and that each step of the process is natural, sterile, and completely free of chemical processing. To be a certified organic farm, the farmer must:

  • Meet certain soil rotation and fertility requirements
  • Have distinct and defined boundaries and buffer zones
  • Feed animals only organic matter
  • Raised in a way that accommodates their natural behavior
  • Avoid pesticides, antibiotics, and GMOs

These are only some of the requirements listed for agriculture and livestock by the USDA. By following these requirements, crops could grow slower, and animals don’t get unnaturally large for meat. Farmers must also pay fees for becoming organically certified, as USDA agents actually come to their property to check the requirements. Taking care of our small farm is exhausting, I can't imagine the hardships of running a large organic poultry farm, or an organic vegetable farm without using shortcuts.

While industrial farming takes shortcuts, it also shortchanges the product.

The negatives of Non-Organic Farming:

  • There is a link between the use of pesticides with degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and some cancers.
  • Over-exposure to insecticides may cause brain tumors in children and young adults.
  • Produce tend to contain less antioxidants vital for heart health and lowering one’s risk of certain cancers.
  • Produce contains less vitamins and minerals, according the Soil Association.
  • Industrial farming potentially harms the environment through soil pollution and increased greenhouse gas emissions.

If you ever hear the phrase, “don't waste your money on organic, they're the same,” don’t believe them. An organic farmer has so much extra work to do to make sure that our food is safe for us. When we buy organic, we don’t have to worry about second-hand antibiotics or pesticides entering our system, because someone else has worried about that for us. Their long labors also keep our fragile soil protected and able to sustain healthy crops. We can live a full and healthy life by choosing to make more organic purchases.

This Thanksgiving, I reflect on how much farmers do for us. We need these people every day of our lives. They provide us with nourishment so that we don’t need to farm ourselves. Because of the hard work that organic farmers do, not only can we have healthy produce and livestock, we can also have great organic skin care from their ingredients. I am extremely grateful for the hard work organic farmers do, and won’t be complaining so much over an extra two dollars at the supermarket.

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