Updated: Aug 30, 2019
I wanted to talk today about being a “beyond organic” farm. The term “beyond organic” was coined by Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms. Salatin is a revered farmer all over the world because of his ingenious mixed species grazing systems on his farm in Virginia. His farm is truly beyond organic because he uses sound permaculture techniques. If you haven’t heard the term “monoculture” then you should become informed of what it means and why it is bad. Monoculture simply means the growing of one crop or the raising of one species. You ever drive by massive orchards or see those massive fields of cotton? Those are monocultures. Monoculture transcends both conventional and organic agriculture. The majority of farms in the US are monoculture farms, probably even most of the organic farms. Monocultures are simply not natural. No where in nature in a healthy ecosystem will you find only one specimen growing or living. Healthy grasslands have thousands of plant and animal species, as well as healthy temperate and tropical rainforests. So, we know that a monoculture isn’t natural. What does that mean? Inevitably, pest insects will do more damage to a monoculture than to a polyculture (a system in which many species grow or exist). Monoculture farms must spray more pesticides and herbicides than polyculture farms. If you have some crops get hit, you’re more than likely going to have a pest outbreak in a monoculture unless you spray.
Now here is where I want to get into some controversy. Certified organic is not enough anymore. You have to really know your farmer and their practices. Organic, monoculture farms are legally allowed to spray organic pesticides, which are derived from botanical or natural sources. I want to highlight one pesticide in particular: Pyrethrins. A seasoned organic pesticide, pyrethrins have been used in organic agriculture for many years. However, the safety of its use is highly in question. Pyrethrins have been shown to be highly toxic to honeybees, killing them in small doses. Now, they say to spray when honey bees are not around. I see honey bees on our mesquite tree at 4:30AM before the sun has even risen. When are you supposed to spray this poison without killing bees? In total darkness? That doesn’t sound smart or safe. Pyrethrins have also been shown to be highly poisonous to amphibians. Frogs and toads are HUGE pest predators and killing them off is literally making the farmer work twice as hard. Let’s also not forget that pyrethrins are a non-selective pesticide. That means it doesn’t choose what it will kill. Ladybugs, lacewings, wasps, praying mantis, and other predator insects all are sensitive to pyrethrins. Do you really want your farmer wiping out all of the beneficial insects just to give you perfect food?
What about mammals? What about us? Pyrethrins, or the crude form, pyrethrum, has significant, harmful health effects on mammals. They can cause numbness, tremors, respiratory failure, vomiting, paralysis, and even death. Cats are highly sensitive to pyrethrins and can die from low exposures. Humans can have asthma attacks, tremors, convulsion, swelling, and even death. An 11-year old girl died after washing her dog with a pyrethrin-based shampoo.
We need to be wary of organic these days and we need to demand more. Organic was a good place to start, but not enough to finish. We need beyond organic methods.
At Broadfork Acres, we never spray pesticides, even organic ones. We use insect netting. We use beneficial nematodes, which prey upon insects. We use predator insects. We rotate our crops like crazy. We will always be transparent and honest about what we do as farmers. We just cannot afford the cost of bad decisions any longer.
If you are interested in learning more about beyond organic agriculture, then I encourage you to look into the Regenerative Organic Certified program that is starting its pilot trials. We hope to become Regenerative Organic Certified some day and this certification will show all of the positive actions we take at our farm to bring you the cleanest, most nutritious produce possible.