Conventional vs. Organic vs. Sustainable Farming


I want to speak very briefly about sustainable vs. organic vs. conventional farming, because I know it is something that many people either don't know about, or might not understand fully. Please take a moment to read this, it is worth your time if you purchase and consume food ;)

Conventional Farming: uses synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and other continual inputs, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), concentrated animal feeding operations, heavy irrigation, intensive tillage or concentrated monoculture production. These methods were developed to save labor and time, but they neglect natural systems and they are short sighted. They lead to water, soil and air pollution, pollinator decline, and a reduction in biodiversity. Over 98% of herbicides reach a destination other than their target species, and chemical inputs run off of the farm and end up in our waterways.

Organic Farming: uses crop rotation, green manures and compost, biological pest control, and mechanical cultivation to control weeds. Organic agriculture is (in its original concept) a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems, and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity, and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects.

"Organic" is not perfect, however, and this is part of the reason why we don't care to get organic certification on our farm. With the increasing popularity of organic food, many large companies have bastardized the term organic in efforts to gain extra profit. You should be wary of "organic" options in large supermarkets, because they often still use conventional methods, such as naturally derived pesticides which can also kill non-target species. Most of the organic fruits and vegetables you will find in supermarkets are not even grown in soil, but in a water solvent using mineral nutrients (hydroponics*). Big companies in places such as California still grow crops in huge monocultures spanning miles upon miles, which is detrimental to the environment. 

*We don't hate hydroponics, but we do not think that it fits the description of organic agriculture. We also believe that foods grown in soil, where they were meant to be grown, are of much higher quality.

Sustainable Farming: this style of farming is based on organic farming, but stays truer to the original principles of organic farming. For example, sustainable farming is focused on building healthy soil, which is the foundation for healthy plants and healthy people. Sustainable farms like ours will avoid using even organically approved pesticides and fungicides, because we know that these are short-term solutions and can still harm the surrounding ecosystem. Unlike many organic farms, we do not use plastic mulch, which is a form of organic weed control but is still a bad choice because it cannot be recycled or reused. We are a small farm and therefore we do not grow large monocultures of one vegetable. Our vegetables may vary a bit more in size, or they may not look "picture perfect," but they are the most flavorful and healthy foods you could eat.

Addendum: IPM (Integrated Pest Management): This is how most fruit growers in our region approach farming. The humid conditions in the northeast United States can make it difficult for fruit farmers because it causes disease to spread more easily. While vegetable farmers growing annual crops can be hurt by disease, it is much more serious for a fruit farmer with perennial crops to lose crops to disease because they have put many years of investments into growing their crops before they can even begin to harvest. Therefore, an IPM farmer will approach farming with an organic or sustainable approach first, but will utilize chemical controls as sparingly as possible if they consider it necessary to save their crop.

Dan, Josh, and I are all very knowledgeable about these topics so please ask us anything! No question is a dumb question, and we want you to make informed choices about what you put in your body!