Organic Gardening Questions

Discussion in 'Gardening & Plant Propagation' started by MsPacMan, Mar 27, 2006.

  1. MsPacMan

    MsPacMan Well-Known Member

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    I grow organic veggies and fruits, but just for my own family and a few friends. I do it the no till, raised bed way or else using food grade 55 gallon drums, even though I have 10 acres at my disposal. And I never worrried about formal organic certification because, after all, I'm the one growing the food I feed my family.


    But I'm also a Tennessee master gardener, and this afternoon, I got a telephone call from a guy that the local extension service referred to me. We live in a small, rural community that has lots of farms, but absolutely NO ONE practicing any kind of organic growing except for me. And now, this guy wants to do some.


    Thing is, his situation is far different from mine, so I don't know the answers either.


    Can any of you help this guy?


    Here's his situation:


    Mike has 2 acres of land that his father is giving him to start a profit motivated, organic vegetable growing operation on. The land has been growing hay for the last ten years, nothing else, and no chemicals have been used on the land for the last decade. He lives in the middle of cotton country, so his neighbors are probably using lots of chemicals, but the nearest neighbor is a half of a mile away.



    Mike has a tractor, plow and disk available to him to work the land, plus cow manure on the land adjacent to his (his father owns a number of heads of cattle). The manure is spread out all over a number of acres, though, it's not like it is gathered in one place and in the process of composting. He also has about $5,000 in funds to get started.


    There is a market for his produce about an hour away from here at the big Farmer's Market in Shelby County (Memphis), but only after his produce is officially certified "organic." The typical consumers willing to buy produce at this Farmer's Market are only willing to shell out the bucks when they see the official certification label, not in the years it might take to build up to official certification.


    So here are the questions he asked the extension agent (who didn't know), and now he's asking me (and I don't know either):


    1, What crops would he be best growing to sell to a finicky, "uppity class" suburban clientele?

    2, What does he need to do in order to get that all important "Organic Certification" label that makes these rich suburbanites pry open their pocketbooks? Can it be done in one growing season, if the land is free of chemicals?
     
  2. btai

    btai Well-Known Member

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    Rose, thank you so much for that link...I know what I'll be reading for the next month :)
     

  3. southerngurl

    southerngurl le person Supporter

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    I believe some of the good sellers are pre-bagged baby lettuce salad mixes and berries.
     
  4. southerngurl

    southerngurl le person Supporter

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  5. BillyGoat

    BillyGoat Well-Known Member

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    I have just started small organic gardening, so I am by no means experience. But I have read alot including Carla's book.

    In one year would be difficult.

    Heavy chemical treatment over large fields, only 1/2 a mile away, may be hard to get an organic 'license'.

    To actually have the true organic license, the inspections are very strict, and continuing and costly.
     
  6. LagoVistaFarm

    LagoVistaFarm Well-Known Member

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    I would second looking into Naturaly Grown. The organic label has been diluted recently with many west coast small farms droiping the certification. They haven't changed their practices, but they have built their reputaion to a stong enough level its no longer worth the expense of it. When WalMart starts carring *organic* its time to look towards a new label.

    Depending of the record keeping they have on the land they may have to wait three years to get certification and spending $1000 to get certification can eat up 20% of his starting capital. You may want to 1) talk to the market manager at that Farmers' Market and see how strict their they adhere to USDA certification versus somethng like Naturaly Grown. 2) Visit the intended market and see what people are offering.

    He's getting a late start for this season, but maybe he could do some differend melons. Small yellow watermelons sell like hotcakes around here. He probabally need to get a good cover crop in to build the soil. Check out Peaceful Valley Farm Supply in their cover crop section. They have a soil building mix that really puts about 8000# of organic matter per acre. Its what we're going to put on four acres this fall.
     
  7. Maura

    Maura Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I agree with the labelling issue. People who are going to pay more for "organic for real" are probably more aware of how watered down the organic label is. "No pesticides or chemicals used" is what he wants stated.

    Everyone loves tomatoes. Though your typical consumer wants unblemished tomatoes of a certain color and dimension, with an upscale market he could sell weird looking heirloom tomatoes. And the salad greens as mentioned above. He could start a few paw paw trees. The fruit has a very short shelf life so nobody sells it, but if he is omitting the middle man and selling it himself he could do this.

    He'll want to collect fresh manure and make compost in a sophisticated way. I asked my father in law for his instructions (from when he did research at the university), and I will bug him again. Basicly, if the compost has constant access to oxygen, it will break down in a matter of days.

    He needs to study the land and ascertain the high spots and low spots, wet spots and dry spots and plant accordingly. You have such a long growing season, that he should still be able to get a crop in. Here, in Michigan, nobody is planting yet.
     
  8. cindyc

    cindyc Well-Known Member

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    The farmers I work with put out a list of potential crops and have customers rate them from 1 (LOVE IT) to 5 (wouldn't eat it to save my own life). That way he can know what is most popular.

    Anyway, if he can find a way to do such a survey, that would help him out a lot. I am assuming he knows something about gardening and knows what WILL grow in that spot?

    Here, people like longevity in a farmer. They want to feel a person knows more about the harvest than they do. People just starting out are viewed with a bit of suspicion. It sort of happens this way. Farmer grows crops for personal use. Farmer grows organic crops for personal use. Farmer grows organic crops and sells to friends, family, and roadside. Farmer builds a reputation over time, answers questions, is a resource. Farmer gets either a "certified naturally grown" or a "certified organic" label, and can float the cost because he has built a loyal clientelle in advance. Farmer begins aggressively marketing his product at this time. The thing is that people who buy from a farmer, are not buying just a product, they are (in a way) buying a farmer. They want to have a relationship with a person that they trust to provide the best quality foods for the money. They don't pay extra for the veggies, they consider that they are supporting the local "family farm". At this point farmers will often start a CSA, so that they are fairly assured of making the budget of the farm in advance of the growing season. They can do that beause of the years invested in the community before hand.

    That said, it is only observation (since not ALL people who pay for this kind of service are "finicky", "upity class" or "rich subrbanites"; some of us just believe in supporting a local economy wherever possible). This is not a scientific fact, just how I see it. I think he will need another source of income the first couple of years at least.