We have learned a lot about organic farming over the past decade and a half. To put things into perspective, I now have 59 years living and working here on the Peterson family farm, 26 years growing and packing conventional fruit and growing conventional poultry as CEO of our little farm, and now 15 seasons doing the same things organically.
We operate a traditional, generational farm. What that means—and people who have never lived it can never understand—is the number one priority, the reason you get up and go to work every day is to ensure the passage of the farm to the next generation.
So when I made the decision to switch everything to organic cold turkey, the main purpose was to position our farm for the next generation. It wasn’t a lark or something lightly embarked upon, it was and is all the chips on the table and burn the ships, we’re not going back, there’s no plan B.
What I had learned and was frankly quite proud of, was a chemical solution for every problem. Every disease, pest or weed, I can tell you the chemical that will kill it; that was my training and experience and how my mind worked to solve daily problems in the field or flock.
I’m not going to bag on the farm chemical companies, that’s not how we roll here. They are the same ones you see in a pharmacy, and they have made farming and doctoring a lot easier. What I want to focus on is what I have learned over the years, with the hope that perhaps the observations will have benefit to your family.
So the first observation when you come to an organic farm is weeds. Lots of people believe organic farming is just letting whatever happen and harvesting wonderful crops, while singing happy songs about how “life on the farm is kinda laid back” but those wonderful people have never operated a for profit agricultural production system.
Truth is, life on the farm is pretty intense, and if you don’t have a realistic plan for dealing with weeds before you plant your crop, there won’t be a crop. The good news is, all weeds known to man yield to plow steel, so if you’re set up right going in, you can get most of ’em with good cultivation and then a touch up with a hoe or shovel.
What I had to learn was to embrace the winter weeds—in our climate, they die when it gets hot and dry—and just cultivate the narrow water run after each irrigation. It’s efficient, economical but management intense, as there are just a couple perfect days to cultivate as the soil dries. I will add that around our home, I used to spend a lot of effort weeding around the landscaping. For the past dozen years, I quit raking up the leaves around the bushes in the fall and just let ’em accumulate. The leaves make a natural mulch that keeps out 99% of the weeds—no raking, no weeding, happy bushes.
I think the biggest thing I have learned—yea continue to learn—is the use of and management of microbiology. Better put, adding specific microorganisms at specific times, and then actually farming these critters symbiotically along with my crops and flocks.
Guys, it is breathtakingly revolutionary what’s going on in organic agriculture right now on this frontier. I see I’m out of white void to type into, but we’ve got lots of time coming up to share.