Our Journey to “Beyond Organic”
When we first began farming in the UP 23 years ago, we were admittedly neophytes to anything more than backyard gardening. We planted a large garden on family land near Escanaba, tended the antique apple orchard, and fruited some shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Our philosophy was to start small and learn along the way. We knew we wanted to grow a diversity of crops.
Another important part of our philosophy was that we wanted to grow organically. During the early years when we started selling produce in Marquette, we saw organic certification as an important step and 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 certification. The farm continued to expand, and we made the decision to develop only local markets. Because we were selling to a relatively small community, we developed relationships with our customers and eventually realized that a third party certifier seemed 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. During that same time it was apparent that national organic standards were also being diluted by big organic. Because of this, we have chosen to support 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 provides assurance that our food is of the highest quality available. 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.
We believe all plant, animal, and human health comes from the soil. This has led us to focus first on the rebuilding the soil in our fields. We do this in a number of ways, but what it all boils down to is that we are trying to feed the organisms and microorganisms that live in and comprise the thing we call dirt. Some of the foods we provide to the soil are composted animal manures, green manure and brown (carbon) matter, kelp, high calcium limestone, azomite, rock phosphate, greensand, humates, dilute ocean solids, fish emulsion, paramagnetic rock, worm castings, and biodynamic preparations. Each crop uptakes different nutrients from the soil, so in addition to supplementing the necessary ratio of minerals to the soil, we rotate plantings and give sections of the fields a rest from production. One of the most beneficial things we do for our garden soil is to move our mobile laying hen flock over the fields when they are at rest. Not only do the chickens clean up insects and weed seeds, but they also leave behind a healthy fertilizer to supplement the next season’s growth. The growth where the flock has roamed visibly stands taller and greener that the area around it.
Studies show a marked loss of minerals in average food stuffs over the past century. Much abuse of the soil in conventional agriculture has exhausted the soil’s supply of minerals and nutrients in many areas. Simply put, if it is not in the soil, it is not in the plant. We go to great lengths to put minerals back in the soil. We take extra steps that are not required by organic certification but that we consider necessary to healthy food production. When we view the system as a whole, we see this not only benefits the consumer with more nutritious produce, but also comes back to the farm as well in the form of healthier plants and animals, higher yields, and less disease and pest problems.
Our organic growing practices extend to our animals as well. Unlike most farms today, our calves and piglets are born on the farm so that we can influence their health from the beginning. We raise slower growing heritage animals instead of modern commercial breeds. We rotate all of the animals on the farm on pastures throughout the growing season. Our exclusively grass fed beef are wintered on organic hay. Our hogs and chickens are fed organic grains which are freshly ground and mixed on the farm. This feed is supplemented with minerals, kelp, and probiotics. The cost of obtaining organic grains is almost double conventional grain. In an era when most animals are being fed conventional grains contaminated with GMOs and/or chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, our feeding regimens and management practices remain true to authentic farming practices.
Agricultural choices affect not only the consumers but also the environment. Our farm is dedicated to taking the extra steps to improve the health of the land and those eating food produced on it. We are very grateful to have settled in such a supportive community, and we look forward to many more years of providing locally grown nutritious food.