Support Your Local Dead Zone?

It’s that time of year when farmers’ markets and roadside produce stands are popping up all over.  I like to go to the Bethesda Farmers’ Market on Sunday mornings to scope out the products and farmers.  And I like that farmers’ markets serve as incubators for start-up producers, whether it be baked goods, small farms, pickles, or goat cheese.  However, there is a profound lack of organic options.

At the Bethesda Farmers’ Market, of the 14 produce vendors, only five are organic.  I cringe at the thought of chemicals being literally dumped onto local acreage polluting the beautiful Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

I visit the Northern Neck of VA frequently.  I snapped this picture of a farm that is about a 1/4 mile from the Rappahannock River.


Notice that there is nothing green on all of these acres- not a single weed.  How many tons of chemical herbicides were used on this land?

We have a tendency to romanticize the farmer- especially small and local farmers, regardless of whether they’re organic.  In a 2012 survey, Whole Foods consumers ranked “local” as more important than “organic.”  We feel that our customers prefer organic to local, with the “gold standard” being organic AND local.

My view is that unless a farmer is farming organically, he or she is part of the problem.  I’d prefer that chemical farms be as far away from this area as possible.

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13 Responses to Support Your Local Dead Zone?

  1. John Tomlin says:

    If farmers who use chemicals were required to pay for the environmental damage they cause, we’d soon see an end to chemical farming. I would love to see what Monsanto’s bill would be.

  2. kgmom says:

    I don’t think you can assume that all farmers who are not certified organic are dumping chemicals. Many small farmers find the cost of getting certified prohibitive. Others choose to use integrated pest management as a practical, logical way to grow fruits and vegetables sustainably. The world is not black and white, and there are not 2 simple sides to this issue.

    • Scott says:

      Hi kgmom. I think it is actually black and white in that, if you’re using harmful chemicals to farm, you are part of the problem (hurting both human health and the environment).

      I agree with you in that the farms that don’t use chemicals, yet are not certified organic, are part of the solution. But a system without general standards and 3rd party certification is not sustainable. You might want to check out an earlier blog post I wrote on this topic and the quote below from Kathleen Merrigan…

      Kathleen Merrigan- “I could list out many challenges and opportunities facing organic agriculture, but as I head out the door, I want you to know the one issue that weighs heavily on my mind,” she wrote. “I meet too many young people who think organic status is insufficient or not relevant to them. They claim to be ‘beyond organic’, ‘natural’, better than organic, ‘authentic.’

      “They worry about the paperwork, fees, and being regulated by government. We must change this trend. I wish I had an hour to spend with each one of these budding farmers to explain the history of the organic farming movement and why it is important to act collectively. What we have done together is bigger than any one person or organization. What we have done together has mattered.”

      It costs a small farmer just a few hundred dollars to become certified organic. That doesn’t seem “prohibitive” as you (and some farmers) suggest.

      IPM is a vague term, sometimes used as a gimmick. I’ve heard that term tossed around at various farmers’ markets for years. I suppose every small farmer can claim that they “manage” pests only as needed, but “as needed” is rather subjective. If a farmer is truly using IPM methods practically and logically, then that’s better than typical conventional farming- but there is nothing better than organic farming.

  3. Seeking Joyful Simplicity says:

    I would rather buy from my local farmer, even if they don’t pursue Organic labeling…I know them, I visit with them each week, I can ask questions (eye to eye)..there is more trust and transparency. I do not trust the Organic Label, which has been corrupted by corporate food producers, just as all other labeling rules have.

    I have been a fan of Moms for some time, but lately I find your posts to come across as: “I know best, you’re just an uninformed consumer, let me educate you” to be arrogant and condescending. If you really care about educating the public, you need to remain open (even when it can be frustrating), and you need to find a way to share the information without the condescending.


  4. Laura says:

    I’ve asked farmers at roadside stands if they are organic. Some say no, but that they do not spray and that is usually good enough for me. But,some go into an animated description of how expensive it is to become certified. They imply or state outright that it would be “thousands of dollars” for them to become certified. ??? I can’t know all of these farmers personally and so I don’t know if they are telling the truth. I have lately wondered if they were just making it up because I have also heard that it only costs a few hundred. ??? I will pay more for organic. It’s the main reason I stop at roadside stands. If I find out it’s all covered with Sevin or the “big farm” equivalent, I don’t come back. They are likely very nice folk even if they are conventional, but nice or not, I don’t want to eat poisons and support practices that are harming the environment.

  5. Cindy says:

    There is a farmers market one block from where I just moved. It is small and I asked about four of maybe seven farmers if they use chemicals. Three of the four I asked told me that they do but qualified it with explanations of they use them minimally, or they only use them when the plants are getting started, etc. I found those answers confusing to know if I wanted to buy from them. The ones I did not ask were not inviting and friendly toward me. I ended up concluding that I don’t want to buy produce that has has been purposely exposed to chemicals. Therefore, I will continue to buy from MOM’s. I realize that the Organic labels are not foolproof, but short of growing my own, it’s the best I can do.

  6. Michael Karpman says:

    Amen, Scott. I hope your blogs get a wide readership, because they are so often right on the money. Despite our ongoing disagreement on the contribution of supporting meat and dairy farming to our ongoing climate catastrophe, you are a great addition to the natural foods landscape.

  7. Phil says:

    I think you might be surprised to see what an actual organic field looks like:

    • Joanne says:

      Thank you Phil. As I was reading I was wondering if Scott or any of the other commenters actually knew what a field of wheat looked like-organic OR conventional. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”…

    • Juliana says:

      And you can clearly see the hints of green mixed in with the yellow in the organic farm – that’s not there in the picture Scott posted. There is a very clear difference. Anyone who wants to eat pesticides is free to do so. I’ll keep buying at MOMs. I do like supporting local farmers, but not if they are using chemical crap to grow their products. There could be valid reasons a farm might not be certified organic, but I want to know what they are and precisely what they do use to grow their food before I’m interested in buying from them.

      The only complicating factor from an environmental perspective is that there is a tremendous amount of pollution that goes into shipping food. The less distance it is shipped (the more local) the less fuels are burned/pollution generated and the further it travels the more pollution it produces. There is a very real offsetting effect there when buying local. Some of the environmental savings of buying organic are eaten up by the shipping process when it has to travel across continents. The flip side of that is that some of the environmental cost of non-organic is offset by a less burdensome shipping process when it only has to travel a short distance.

  8. Scott says:

    I have seen plenty of organic farms and they’ve all had weeds. Regardless, clearly the point I’m making is not that organic farms are weed-free like conventional farms, but rather that conventional farms dump tons of toxic chemicals on the land.

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