While we’ll have organic stone fruit for a couple more months, the lion’s share (90 percent) is now in the rearview mirror, and this brings up some insider information I’m betting you’ll be interested in because perception often trumps reality when it comes to our food. But, as Uncle Vern often says, sunlight is always the best disinfectant.
So if you woke up one morning and decided you wanted to be a stone fruit farmer, there are some very real realities you would need to address, namely: 1) It takes lots of people with varied skill sets working in harmony from breeders, varietal selection, nurserymen, planting, and training to get the required 150 or so orchards ready to contribute their part of the summer’s weekly varietal mix. 2) A group of very talented production people observant in the nuances of coaxing the best out of each of those, getting them pruned, thinned, and harvested timely. 3) Today you’ll need a multimillion dollar facility capable of meeting food-safety protocol again staffed with very competent people to get your fruit into the packaging the trade requires. 4) You’re also going to need proper cold storage staffed with a crew of very diligent people who get your fruit cold and on the right truck. 5) Finally, you’ll need a sales team to represent your product to retail, get the right price and orders and trucks lined up and most importantly, collect enough money to support all of the above so you can do it again the next year.
As a farmer, these elements are pretty universal whether you’re growing bananas or boysenberries, so you have to decide whether you’re going to do them all yourself, or join an alliance where you take some piece of this and let others take the balance. What I hope you can grasp however is the common thread: very specialized and talented people. In order to retain these craftsmen, you must have steady work.
The reason I went through all of this with you, is to explain why we’re 3 months into a 5 month season yet 90 percent done. In the eyes of the typical organic consumer, local trumps organic. With the exception of Eastern Washington, California is the only place you can really grow organic stone fruit; it’s just too humid in the rest of the country to forego synthetic fungicides.
So here’s the mindset and I’ll bet you can apply it to your own experience: Bill’s farm is just over there in your state of Virginia. Bill is a great guy. His product isn’t organic, but Bill says it’s pretty, kinda, sorta, close to organic, and he just doesn’t want to go through all that paperwork hassle to get it certified. Same goes for your local farmer’s market downtown. You ask the vendor: “Is it organic?” and get the same answer Bill in Virginia gave. I’ve heard that same answer from Maui to Monterey.
So here’s the truth: Organic production is just really hard. Each of those 5 disciplines we started out with are very challenging. It’s not the paperwork; an average 5th grader could fill it out. It’s not the money; small producers get a USDA subsidy that offsets about two-thirds of it ($700). It’s just really hard in the field to produce anything organically.
What I want you to know is this. If a given food item is not organic, there’s something very important to your family’s health that’s been compromised 99.9% of the time period. You may still want to buy it which is fine, Bill is a great guy; but don’t fall for the sorta, kinda don’t want the hassle stuff. Bill should be honest. Wow, I started out to write about hospitality and look where we are. Next week: hospitality. Until then EAT HEALTHY!!!