Posted by: A Part of the Solution | August 26, 2010

A Pragmatist’s Dilemma

In the best of all possible worlds, there wouldn’t be an alternative to Organic. It would be the only method of farming and food production. And it would consistently yield sufficient crops to ensure everyone in the world going to bed with a full stomach. And yet, we don’t live in that world. Hence the dilemma. And further, the need for pragmatists.

Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m a huge fan of Organic. It’s been my passion for years and years now. But those same people will also tell you I’m a pragmatist and am known do whatever it takes to bring a process through to completion.

My farm is not certified organic. At present, we’re not engaged in the active process of transitioning to formally organic agriculture either. Why is that? Let’s look at some of the reasons.

Our land has been farmed for more than two hundred years. It requires a lot of nutrient support to continue to produce. We are lucky enough to have a neighbor with a dairy operation who will spray our fields with his manure to make our soil more useful to the plants we grow in it. Since our neighbor uses our land to grow the feed he gives to his cows which produce that manure, we’re in a nearly Biodynamic circuit up here. Except.

Except our neighbor has found the only seed he can get to grow in sufficient volume to provide for his dairy herd in this over-farmed terrain is Round Up Ready®. And that product would be the antithesis of Organic and Biodynamic.

What’s a pragmatic locavore to do? The manure stream our neighbor uses is antibiotic free. His herd enjoys pasture as well as the alfalfa, corn and soybean mix he provides. Any other manure we applied (or fertilizer of any sort) would have to come from farther away, using additional petrochemicals and broadening the carbon footprint of our endeavors distinctly.

Thus also with our chicken and pig feed. Our chickens derive the bulk of their nutritional inputs from running around the farm eating whatever they can get their sharp little beaks on. The pigs will soon have those same privileges (minus beaks plus snouts) in our extensive woods. But we supplement their natural forage with feed. And the feed comes from a locally owned business using local grains and other matter. And it’s ground to order, fresh on the spot when we buy it.

But that means it’s like our neighbor’s crops. There’s GMOs in that there feed. The alternative is driving forty-five miles each way to get a ‘pelletized’ organic product that is heat treated, formed, and from far far away. Not only is it not fresh, our beasts don’t like the stuff–they become restive and aggressive when presented with the so-called ‘good stuff’. And I don’t blame them. It doesn’t smell fresh, and pellets are not the shape of real food for real animals.

It goes on and on like that around here. We’re well-intentioned pragmatists. We want what’s best all the way around. It’s not always easy to know what ‘best’ will look like in real-world applications. Hence our dilemma.



  1. Thanks for this post, illustrating the real-world challenges of creating sustainability in food production. It’s easy for us city-dwellers to fantasize about the work you do without really understanding the complexities.

    • Aw heck, it’s easy for us to fantasize about what we want to do, never mind the limitations of reality.

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