The Compost Pile: Notes from my farmer

I get my meat from a small organic family farm. Every year I buy a meat “share”, and then get a monthly delivery, along with 4 dozen pastured (ponded?) duck and chicken eggs.

Not only is it delicious, I also develop a relationship with my farmers. I follow their adventures, what the kids are up to, etc. I know where my meat and eggs come from, and whose hands harvested them (or which teenager chased the wayward calves back into pasture this week). Plus, I know that my money goes directly back to them. Everyone wins. (And their roasts… oy. Transcendent.)

From time to time, Mr. Farmer sends round a newsletter (“The Compost Pile”) with some tidbits and insider knowledge. It’s often provocative and shocking in the sense that he pulls the curtain back from the nefarious goings-on within industrial agriculture.

Here’s a recent newsletter. After reading:

Hit “reply” and let me know what you think.

  • How do YOU learn about your food?
  • What’s important to YOU in choosing “healthy” and safe foods?

The Compost Pile

I spent most of the weekend at my 20th University Class reunion. It was a great time catching up with good friends that I don’t see very often. Invariably the conversation turns to organic versus conventional as I am the only member of my class that is involved in organic agriculture.

I had an interesting discussion with a classmate who I respect a great deal. He grows primarily sweet corn, strawberries, raspberries and pumpkins. We got into a discussion of BT (GMO) corn versus all the insecticides that he needs to use to control the corn borer. He said that he didn’t believe that consumers actually cared about the environment or whether they were eating insecticides or genetically modified corn. The market signals he was getting indicated that there was no tolerance for a borer.

His data indicates that averaged over the entire growing season, they would have an “infection rate” of about 4% of cobs with the borer present if they used no spray or GMO varieties. That’s 1 in 25 cobs or a 50-50 chance that if you bought a random dozen you would have 1 cob with a borer present. (That’s a simplification of the math because early in the season the rates are lower and they build over the season).

The borer generally eats a few kernels at the silk end of the cob and is immediately obvious when you husk the corn. The borers cause no economic damage (there is no impact on yield); it is purely aesthetic.

This is another case where most people debate the wrong question. The question to be asking is not whether spraying insecticides is better than GMO corn but rather is either preferred to 1 cob in 25 having cosmetic damage that is easily removed with a sharp knife (or eaten around).

I know where my answer lies. But I also know that any sweet corn producer that routinely has borers present will go out of business very quickly.

One other quick tidbit – I’m sure you all recognize “Red Delicious” apples by the taper and four prominent bumps on the flower end of the apple. I always wondered why our tree didn’t produce similarly shaped fruit. I had assumed that ours was a different sub-cultivar.

It turns out that the apples are sprayed with a growth regulator to change their shape into the distinctive tapered end with the bumps. Another unecessary trip through the orchard with the sprayer for completely cosmetic reasons… the majority of the marketplace doesn’t care about production methods as long as their food looks and tastes how they expect it to.

The one place we could agree is that we wished there were Ontario produce labelling regulations that were enforced. I’ll give you two examples: Both he and I know of situations where conventional produce is being sold as organic.

Currently, we only have a national regulation in Canada that covers inter-provincial trade. Any produce that is produced and consumed in the same province isn’t subject to the regulation. There is no enforcement action that can be taken against these individuals currently, especially if they aren’t using a certified organic logo in their display.

The second example is produce which is having its provenance changed. Primarily, imported produce is being relabelled with Foodland Ontario stickers and sold as “Product of Ontario”. It’s almost impossible to catch because so much produce is traded in cash deals with no paperwork. What percentage of the produce you find in stores is not represented truthfully is anyone’s guess. He can’t report what he sees because he would be shut out of the wholesale market instantly and would lose his livelihood.

Several more reasons to get to know your farmer.