GROWING FRESH, LOCAL PRODUCE ON A CONVENTIONAL FARM
A passion for produce started with my dad, Wayne, before he was even out of his teen years. It also introduced him to his wife (and our mom), Daryl, who became more than a seasonal worker. Today our whole family, including us four children, plays an integral part in cultivating success for Windy Acres Farms in Geneva, Illinois.
At our farm, you’ll find high-quality fruits and vegetables picked daily and sold within 24 hours. Our farm is teeming with:
- Flowers and farm-harvested honey in the spring.
- Juicy, sweet fruits and fresh vegetables in the summer.
- Plump pumpkins, gourds and crisp apples in the fall.
- Christmas trees in the winter.
That’s just to name a few. And all of our fresh, local produce is grown using a mix of conventional and organic methods. It’s an approach that’s worked for 35 years – using organic practices day in and day out while only applying chemicals as a very last line of protection for our plants and produce.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO CHOOSE A SIDE
I have neighbors who grow vegetables on large amounts of land using conventional methods along a state highway, perfect for a farm stand. They don’t believe there’s anything wrong with organic, but their choice is based on the fact that organic production requires more labor which is not readily available to them.
So to consumers who are struggling with food choices amidst overwhelming labels, adjectives and headline-grabbing, myth-based marketing campaigns, I say:
- Pick whatever works best for YOU.
- Don’t be misled by fear-mongers and unjustified guilt.
- Ask questions of those who are actually growing the food, and discount the opinions of those who must tear down someone else’s choice to make theirs look most appealing.
- Buy what you want given your own budget and preferences.
ORGANIC OFFERS A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO FARMING
We’re most excited about the sense of community and the relationships we’re building. Local food systems create a community of farmers engaging a community of consumers. I enjoy the energy and excitement of it.
- Certification allowed us to do what we were doing before, but get paid for it through higher prices.
- USDA certification is needed for those who buy from us and need documentation. If we’re selling to a store for example, the USDA certification becomes more important, as does our brand.
- For our customers who buy directly from us, the USDA certification isn’t as important because they have made the effort to “know your farmer”, usually have visited the farm, and have confidence in how we operate and in what they’re buying. So there’s generally no price premium there for the paperwork in a face-to-face situation.
- One of the advantages of local food systems is that you can actually get to know the people that produce your food, so you don’t have to depend on a government certificate.
Organic vs Conventional Farming – What’s the same, what’s different?
Organic versus conventional – it’s a highly debated topic. As a farmer who has employed both methods, perhaps I can offer a valuable point of view to help you make the best choice for you and your family.
What’s the same?
- Pesticides – There are pesticides approved for use in both types of farming. Farmers use these to protect their crops from bugs and disease.
- Soil health – Farmers use a variety of tools and practices to maintain soil and water health on farms of every shape and size.
- Sustainability – All farmers think about sustainability. The tools farmers can use vary slightly between conventional and organic, but the desired result is the same.
- Farmers care – We all care about growing safe food for our families and preserving our land for years to come.
- Safety – Whether or not you’re reaching for an “organic” label at the store, the food you’re eating is safe. Furthermore, research shows very little difference between the nutritional value of organic and conventionally grown foods.
- Pesticides – While there are approved pesticides for use in both types of farming, pesticides used on organic farms must be naturally derived whereas conventional farms can use synthetic pesticides.
- GMOs – Genetically modified crops are not allowed in organic farming. GMOs can be grown in our conventional fields and help us avoid using pesticides among other benefits.
- Cost – But you already knew that. Generally speaking, certified organic food costs more.
So, yes, there are some differences between conventional and organic farming, but there isn’t necessarily a “right” and a “wrong” way to farm. It all comes down to what is best for each individual farmer and their land. In my case, I’m comfortable growing both and I feed both to my family. I’m making what I believe are the best choices and I encourage you to do the same.