Our Journey to “Beyond Organic”
When we first began farming in the U.P., we were told that nothing could grow here besides potatoes. Most folks thought that we were crazy to try to farm, especially organically. Regardless, we planted our first gardens, innoculated some shiitake logs, and tended an antique apple orchard on family land near Bark River, Michigan. The first couple years offered mixed results, but we started with diversity and kept going. Our philosophy was to start small, stumble along, and learn along the way.
After a couple years of farming near Bark River, we bought a piece of land on the Chocolay River, 11 miles south of Marquette. As we outgrew the size of the naturally fertile gardens by the river, we started renting the farmland across the street that we eventually purchased to be the farm’s permanent home. One of the first things we began doing at the farm was to start rebuilding the soil. We believe that the root of all plant, animal, and human health comes from the soil, since everything we consume was at one point grown in the earth. Every time we grow a crop in a field, the plants take nutrients out of the soil. It is our job as farmers to rebuild the soil and keep our land living and healthy. The basis of this is feeding the organisms and microorganisms that live in and comprise the thing we call dirt. In addition to animal manure and compost, we also feed the earth with green and brown (carbon) matter, kelp, calcium limestone, azomite, rock phosphate, greensand, humates, dilute ocean solids, fish emulsion, paramagnetic rock, worm castings, and bio-dynamic preparations. We also move our laying hens and hogs through our fields at the end of the year. They happily eat weeds and insects in the area, till the earth, and also leave behind healthy fertilizer. Building a living soil is not required by organic certification, but it is one of the steps that we consider necessary to healthy food production.
We knew we wanted to grow things organically from the beginning. During the early years, we saw organic certification as an important step, and we were certified organic by OCIA and OGM for three years. While we were certified, we learned a lot about organic practices and the requirements for growing organically. The farm continued to expand and we kept a diverse but local market. Because we were selling to a relatively small community, we knew our customers well, and eventually realized that a third party certifier was unnecessary. Most farms estimate they spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars per year pursuing organic certification, and they have no choice but to pass that cost on to their customers. Unfortunately, at the same time, national organic standards are being diluted. Because of this, we have chosen to support of the Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) organization, which aims to provide a feasible organic certification for small farms selling to their local markets. Not all locally grown food is organic, so the CNG certification also sets us apart from local farms that do not adhere to organic standards. We are transparent about our practices and invite our customers to come out to the farm and see for themselves how their food is grown.
Throughout the many years of farming, we never strayed from the organically minded path. Problems with pests and insects have set us back from time to time, but we would rather have non-toxic food with a couple blemishes than perfect looking food that is full of chemicals. We believe in leaving the earth better than we found it and can see the results of our efforts to improve the soil. We are very grateful to have settled in such a supportive community, and we look forward to many more years of providing good food to our community.