Government in the Garden
January 1, 2013
Allan in Adirondacks, Farmers' Markets, Food , Musings on Gardening, chickens, fruits, organic food, organic gardening, vegetables

An exciting attraction for food lovers, who spend their summer vacation in the Adirondacks of Upstate New York, is the opportunity to buy fresh produce from local cultivators. Here, farmers grow fruits and vegetables in a sustainable manner and raise chickens that roam free. This production, offered weekly at Farmers Markets throughout the area, tastes better than the selection found in supermarkets. In the recent past, this food was also perceived to be healthier.

When interest in organically raised animals and produce peaked, the farmer-merchants were in an advantageous position to embrace this new trend in eating. Supposedly, all they had to do was to change the quality of the nutrients they fed both plants and livestock and avoid using harmful pesticides.

It was exciting and convenient for vacationing consumers to shop from local farmers. Now, not only was it possible to purchase tastier food, freshly harvested that same day, but also it was food grown in a sustainable, responsible manner, with a low carbon footprint because it was sourced nearby.

However, something changed this past summer. When we arrived at the market on the first day of our vacation, we were disapointed to see that the signs designating the stalls as organic were no longer posted.  That's when we began asking questions.

One chicken farmer told us that the price of organic feed had increased to a level that made it prohibitive for her to run a farm profitably. She assured us that she was using the next best alternative; a quality feed several grades higher than conventional.

A second farmer reported that she was unable to declare her food organic without paying for a permit and that she found the cost of government-certified organic labeling too costly.

The last stall owner we spoke to was dismayed by the constantly changing government guidelines. It had become too expensive to adapt his farm to newer regulations every season.

In the end, all the cultivators assured us that they had found alternative, eco-friendly and healthy solutions that were less costly and bureaucratic. They did remind us that unregulated organic practices still remains an option for those gardeners who choose to grow food for personal consumption.

Ironically, the debate on this topic is slowly coming full circle. Using organic pesticide that requires repeated applications is proving to be more harmful than using factory-produced pesticides that are effective with just one application. Furthermore, there is a growing realization among scientists that there is no empirical evidence to confirm that eating organic is healthier than eating conventionally grown food. There is, however, a consensus that the advantage to eating organic is that food tastes better. For some people, that is a sufficient reason to consume it, and to pay a premium for that choice.

However, for most of the world’s population, paying for certified organic remains an expensive and debatable alternative. Even supporting local non-organic farmers comes at a high price because the cost of their harvest is often much higher than supermarket food. However, when I am on vacation, I am happy to source freshly harvested, tasty food, locally grown by farmers I trust. It enhances the rural, outdoor experience and in some way helps us city folk reconnect with nature.

Article originally appeared on Garden Design, Montreal, Perennial Flower Gardens, Gardening Tips, Gardening Advice, Gardening Book Reviews (http://allanbecker-gardenguru.squarespace.com/).
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