Posted by: A Part of the Solution | April 15, 2011

Three Years or Bust!

I confess, there are a number of issues I’d never considered from my present vantage point before I started farming. For example, it takes three years for land to qualify for the organic certification process. Once a piece of land is certified, the produce grown on it becomes immensely more valuable (worth about 200-300% more per acre). Before the land is certified organic, however, its produce isn’t really salable at higher prices. But the labor and soil building components and mulches and watering systems still takes as much time and energy as though it were already organic.

And then there’s the carbon conundrum we’ve identified up here when we go over the pros and cons of formal organic certification. I detest the political strings attached to US dependence on foreign oil. And we’re neither of us hipped about drilling into the Alaskan wilderness, or further pillaging of our offshore holdings for non-renewable resources. But organic soil additives and soil builders and straight up fertilizers, as well as fully organic feed for the livestock, would have to come from Far Far Away if we converted to organic. And those volumes of ingredients germane to organic farming weigh tons–quite literally. How should we justify the increased consumption of petrochemicals in the name of a formal process which doesn’t functionally or chemically improve the quality of the food we’re growing and raising?

The magical year of three also applies to our relationship with the USDA. Until one has filed a Schedule F Form with the IRS for three years in a row, one does not qualify for very nearly anything the USDA might be expected to do for its farmers–except the immediate increase in inspections by various sub-departments throughout the now-sprawling bureaucracy which has become the Department of Agriculture.

Is it ironic that over at the Small Business Administration the mantra is, “In their first three years of operation, over sixty percent of all small business start-ups fail”? When I see how many doors are shut in our faces because we haven’t already existed for three years, I’m not sure whether I should laugh or cry. We’re new to farming, but we have good credit records and excellent employment references. We’re new to farming, but we have honesty in conduct and a commitment to hard labor as core character values. We’re new to farming, but we want to get past this fragile initial period and get on with bringing the best of ourselves to what we do and our desire to improve our land and sharing our chosen lifestyle with anyone and everyone.

I think it might be too much to ask, given the barriers the world has placed in front of us. Granted, if we should–by some narrow margin and life-shortening stress level, manage our way to year three on the farm; we may look back on these early years as an appropriate form of ‘hazing’ to keep the weak, parasitic and greedy from taking advantage of the larger system. We may, but I don’t believe for a second that we will.

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Responses

  1. You can do it! Make it through year three, that is. I don’t know about certification. The jury’s out on whether or not it’s worth it at this point in time. I am ambivalent at best, not on the basis of pure ideas, but in the realm of real life living in the middle of, as Matthew prefers to call it, F-ing Somewhere. You have my undying sympathy, having been exactly where you are.

    • Thanks, I sure hope we can. I have all possible faith in our undertaking. The rightness of it is indisputable. But the brick walls we keep running into seem every bit as real. We tried to use a great, locally owned natural foods chain as drop-offs for our CSA this year, but they turned us down because our produce isn’t certified organic. Even though they wouldn’t be selling any of it, and even though they’d have been supporting an organically producing start-up–they said ‘no, it’s our policy.’ They’re still a great chain. But I wonder if they’ve had a chance to think hard about how their policy may affect the (beginning) small farmers they have alleged they want to support.

      • Can you send them a link to this blog?

      • It wouldn’t change anything. They’re very concerned with standards and policies.


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