By now pretty much everyone’s heard of organic food and has an opinion on it. For a while, companies rushed to plaster labels like “organic” and “all-natural” all over everything, from chicken to cereal. But nowadays, the organic food movement is often seen as a superficial, elitist, and even glamorous fad that seems to have lost its environmental focus.
As an advocate of organic food, I thought I had a grasp on what it meant socially and environmentally to buy and eat organic. This summer, though, I got the chance to work at Cloverleigh Farm, an organic vegetable farm and CSA in Storrs, CT, and I realized that I had so much more to learn.
Growing organic is tough and expensive
Financially, physically, and emotionally, growing organic produce is tough — especially if you’re trying to make a living off of it. People will often tell me that organic food is too overpriced. Even big-name stores like Whole Foods have admitted to sometimes overcharging customers, which definitely doesn’t help this image. For the most part though, small organic farms, especially those with Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, aren’t trying to rip you off. The farmers are just trying to make a living. There are so many expenses, and it can be hard for farmers to acquire adequate loans.
Small organic farms are often a one man or woman job
The thing that surprised me the most about organic farming was that my boss is pretty much a one-woman team. With occasional help from her father, volunteers, and part-time workers, Susan works six to seven days a week doing various farm-related tasks. Growing organic is very labor intensive and everything is done manually. So next time you hesitate spending that one extra dollar, remember where your money is going.
If you join a CSA, you say goodbye to monotonous dinners
Time of year for roots and greens….and wait! The last of the peppers and tomatoes too! A photo posted by Cloverleigh Farm (@cloverleighfarm) on Oct 27, 2015 at 3:17pm PDT
When you join a CSA, you buy a share to a farmer’s harvest for (usually) an entire season. This means that every week, you show up to the share distribution, and you get whatever the farmer was able to harvest that day. Part of the fun is not knowing what you’re going to get and experimenting with new ingredients and new recipes. Eating seasonally means that throughout the season, you get to try a variety of different produce.
Animals may have suffered in the production of your veggies
Some vegetarians will say that eating meat is wrong because it’s unfair to animals. We might not think about it often, but to grow vegetables you also have to, to a lesser extent, harm animals. This summer, I helped set up electric deer fences and traps to catch groundhogs, since these are two animals that notoriously chew up and destroy vegetables and fruits. Not to mention all the little cabbage worms I squished. Without taking these measures, there wouldn’t have been any vegetables left to harvest.
It’s not just the super wealthy who buy organic
Organic food has a bad rep of being exclusively for the elite, who have enough financial stability to worry about the quality of their produce. A CSA, though, is more about building a kind of community where you can meet your farmer and your neighbors. While the farm was located in a relatively affluent area, the thing most members had in common was geographic location rather than socioeconomic status. My boss also had a fall-only student share for UConn and ECSU students available at a fairly reasonable price of $100 for 7 weeks of delicious, fresh vegetables.
Farming is dying and it needs to be revitalized ASAP
“Organic” has now become a buzzword in oversaturated news and blogs everywhere. The idea of eating more “natural” foods has become so commonplace that it might be surprising to hear that farming is a dying industry — literally. The majority of farmers, especially on smaller, family-owned farms in the U.S., belong to an aging population, and younger people don’t seem to want to take on feeding the population.
Lucky for us, there are younger farmers out there that are motivated to help supply our food systems. Susan is a member of the “New CT Farmer Alliance” and the “National Young Farmers Coalition,” two groups that are getting young farmers together and coming up with new ways to promote and support small-scale farmers.