Sunday, May 2, 2010

Organic farming in New York State increasing, but does not compare to conventional farm numbers

According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, there are 36,352 farms in New York State and 1,137 of these farms are involved in some sort of organic production.

Anton Burkett from Early Morning Farm in Genoa, New York is an organic farmer and has owned Early Morning Farm for 12 years. Burkett says for him, organic farming is not only important because it is better for the earth, but he says it is also healthier for the body.

"We could hook you up to a nutrient mix in the hospital or you could carry an IV bag around with you and you would never have to eat real food ever again. We could keep you alive for years and years and you may grow faster even if we put the right mix in, we could get you to grow faster. So it's the same thing with plants," Burkett said.

According to the USDA's 21-page Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, organic products are those made without the use of synthetic chemicals.

Karen Abbott from Abbott Farms in Baldwinsville, New York says she isn't sold on the idea of organic farming. Abbott says she is more interested in monitoring and moderation with integrated pest management.

"We do certain scouting practices and measurements really carefully done through weather system, weather monitoring system so that we're only applying the bare minimum to produce a marketable crop," Abbott said.

Burkett says farming organically can be more expensive than more conventional agriculture, but one USDA program is working to alleviate some of the costs associated with going organic.

The USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Center EQUIP-Organic Initiative was authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill and gives organic producers or growers transitioning into organic production to apply for up to$20,000 a year in funding for up to six years.

In order to become "organic," producers must be certified by a certifying agency. The Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York is one of these agencies, and the same one responsible for certifying the Early Morning Farm.

"After they finish the application process, it goes into the office, they process it and make sure everything complies with the organic standards and then send a farm inspector or a processor inspector out to the facilities to just check everything out and make sure everything they said on their application is actually what is going on on the farm or facility. And then it gets processed and they get a certificate of organic certification if everything goes well," said NOFA-NY Executive Director Kate Mendenhall.

Groups such as Community Supported Agriculture of Central New York work to support local organic farmers such as Burkett, who says he works with a CSA-CNY group in Ithaca. Dianna Winslow is a CSA-CNY board member in Syracuse and says the group's main goal is to connect eaters with growers in a local economy.

"We have to find, as a human race, a more sustainable way to grow things and eat ways that are seasonal and that preserve the land and feed the land as well as take from it and use the land more appropriately," Winslow said.

Sarah Johnston from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets says organic production is increasing, but the future of organic farming is unknowable.

"The future of organic farming is going to be determined by a combination of government policy and consumer demand. How fast? Who knows? We are in a recession right now," Johnston said.

Burkett says the Early Morning Farm is doing well and is expanding every year - with more employees and more products and he says he expects this will continue in the future.
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