Re: Brian de Palma

About a month ago, Brian de Palma published an op-ed article somewhere  stating that research  had shown  that certified organically raised  produce had no more food value than produce raised conventionally. I didn’t see the original  article  but it  caused a furor in the  organic community.  Even as a non certified organic grower, I guess I would wonder how anybody arrives  at a blanket statement like that and the criterion that he used to reach that conclusion.   And of course,  the big question in my mind (without having seen the article),  what is  and how broad is his definition of  food value?

Being more concerned with the mundane business of cramming  farming into increasingly shortening daylight hours and colder temperatures as well as the seasonal  hurdle of Christmas shopping,  I never looked the article up. And I  fell asleep long before my curiosity arose to do so. But I caught a second article by de Palma in our local daily  paper  The Valley News, and I garnered some interesting facts from it that made  me stop and think.

Leaving  food value aside,  he compared  the energy consumption of organic farming  practices vs  conventional  farming.    I would have guessed conventional ag would have used less energy than organic ag.  This supposition is born from the fact that there is a fair amount of mechanical  cultivation  in organic ag  coupled with fallowing systems,  flame weeding  and,  up to this point,   very expensive  fertilizers and soil amendments.  Cultivation and organic  amendments  are  areas in which we  at Edgewater have some expertise, although  in some crops we use herbicides  to get some measure of control over the bad guys (weeds)  and conventional fertilizers as well.    But de Palma  points out that the high use of BTUs  in the  production of conventional  fertilizers and  chemicals  offsets the  high cost of organic production.  Upon thinking about it,   I think he may be onto something.   From a conventional  production   standpoint,  we can see  fossil fuel products  have climbed astronomically  the last  five years for both organic and conventional farmers,  we all use diesel fuel and grease.   Conventional fertilizer has risen astronomically.   I know that my cost of potash  has gone up  300% in the past five years,.   Part of this is demand  (with China being a huge customer for US produced fertilizers), but it remains  that  the means of producing  potash as well as conventional  urea form nitrogen  requires the use of fossil fuel.  So my world gets jostled a little because  not  too many years ago it was,  from a  purely economic  standpoint,   cheaper to produce  food through conventional means.  I think that I may have been complacent in my illusion to that fact, but there certainly is a strong statement  by de Palma in today’s economy  to be otherwise.

At the end of our  day this may just be  another interesting factoid.  Edgewater Farm really isn’t  going to be moved by this other than  better understanding the realities of farming in the 21st century.  It wont be a paradigm shift for us because we have always straddled the line of organic farming and conventional farming.  The objective is still  to understand the  systems that produce safe, healthy  food  in a sustainable way, and choose the correct path.  And while traveling down that  path  we will continue to look forward and aft and keeping an ear to the ground to what others, like de Palma ,  have to say.