At right, LABOR OF (ORGANIC) LOVE - Seth Gaddis is one of the many helping hands at Whitestone Farm in Talking Rock, now an official organic operation.
originally published 5/27/2009
The organic movement has created as many skeptics as it has devotees.
Even those who see undeniable problems with America’s food culture still find it easy to dismiss parts of the Green Movement as overinflated hype when they’re in the checkout line.
“Have I been utterly and completely duped?” you may ask as your organic avocado and eggs ring up for double, sometimes triple the price.
But after taking a tour with Russell and Christina Cutts, owners of Whitestone Farm in Talking Rock, it’s easy to see that the movement isn’t about hype – at least on the grassroots level. It’s about passion for quality food as nature meant it, and it’s about supporting individuals and communities over complex, corporate agribusinesses.
“There’s so much labor and time involved in growing organic food,” Christina said with a grin as she walked alongside a patch of creeping Egyptian onions, past maturing tot soi and swaths of low-growing lambsquarters. “You have to have a lot of patience.”
Christina and Russell say some communities simply aren’t willing to pay organic prices, despite the Cutts erring on the low-end of the scale, so they oftentimes travel to farmers markets in more urban settings.
“We just can’t compete in some places. I mean, we don’t do this by ourselves like the farmer who can run dozens of acres on his own by covering everything in Roundup...There are about 25 people who do work to make this happen,” Christina said as she snapped off a fresh arugula leaf, offering it up as a quick snack.
But prior to Wednesday, May 6, the Cutts weren’t even allowed to say their food was “organic,” a buzz-word now owned by the federal government. They had to say they “used organic practices.”
“Yeah, we had ‘organic’ on our sign and another farmer saw it…We got a call from the National Organic Program and we told them all the good things we were doing here and they said, ‘Yeah, that’s great. Just take down the sign and keep doing what you’re doing.’”
Now, however, the Cutts can plaster “organic” wherever they please because they’re official. The USDA says so.
And if organic certification isn’t good enough to savor all on its lonesome, another delectable little tidbit is the fact that Whitestone Farm appears to be poised for a bountiful future. Not only is consumer interest in organic food growing like a weed (which the Cutts say can be some of the best in edible vegetation), but federal support of organic practices is beginning to trickle down from the top of the canopy.
The USDA announced Tuesday, May 5 that it would release $50 million in grant money to farmers looking to transition into organic production, or to certified organic farmers aiming to expand their sustainable farming practices.
Many in the organic community consider this to be one of the greatest policy successes to date for organic production.
“We looked at the forms and we are right on. We meet all the criteria,” Christina said, who along with Russell has plans of applying for the grant.
But with or without the grant money the Cutts will be scaling up their operation for a third season, which includes a Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA), – and they’re doing it in a big way.
Russell estimates that their farm stand, open to the public various hours from Thursday through Sunday, will move from selling about 30 items to nearly 300 and he also said they have tripled the size of their crop area in the past year.
In addition to the free-range eggs, relishes, canned goods and the “half normal, half adventuresome” fare grown on their own farm, the Cutts sell a variety of items from other local farms, too, which Russell dubs “through-puts.”
“On a farm you have what’s known as inputs and outputs,” he said. Inputs are the materials you purchase or obtain for your soil and animals to thrive. Outputs are the items, such as eggs and veggies, your farm produces.
“Through-puts,” on the other hand, are the goods your farm doesn’t produce but which you purchase wholesale from other farmers and offer thorough your business.
The Cutts’ sell free-range pork and beef, cornmeal, grits, honey, soaps and salves as “through-puts,” and they have plans of adding many more to the future inventory.
“Even if we only make 10 cents selling someone else’s stuff we’ll do it. This is about supporting your community,” Christina said.
Enrollees in the Cutts’ CSA program can pay a $50 annual fee and get 10-percent off of any purchase they make through Whitestone (including through-puts), either at their farm stand or at the various farmers markets they attend.
The Cutts say being certifiably organic is more than a validation of their four year, seven-day-a-week effort.
“It opens a lot of doors for us and it will give us a chance to educate, too,” Christina said. “It has been such a spiritual journey living seasonally and sustainably...and there is so much comfort and peace knowing we are not so dependent on the system. I mean, this is life as close to freedom as you can get in this county.”
For more information about the organically certified Whitestone Farm, their CSA program or hours of operation visit www.whitestonefarm.biz