I read an article in the Sunday October 18, 2009 edition of the Tallahassee Democrat that disturbed me. It was an article about a small family owned farm in rural Georgia that is part of an upcoming farm tour put on by New Leaf Market in Tallahassee. This farm tour features several organic and natural farms, some of which are located in Jefferson County.
The quote from the article that bothered me so was this: "Eleven of the farms on the tour are certified organic, and the rest are all natural and stay away from the conventional agribusiness way of farming," New Leaf's Cristin Burns says. "The products they're producing are healthier because they're not using artificial chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and hormones. Generally, they have a philosophical belief in the way they farm and in providing products that are free from harm."
The reason her quote concerns me is two-fold. The first reason is that she claims that products produced on organic/natural farms are healthier than the products that are produced on conventional farms. To date there is not sufficient research to back this claim. In fact, there are just as many “food scares” with organics as with conventional products. Remember the spinach scare in 2006? That was organic spinach that had e-coli bacteria on it causing several deaths. And just yesterday I read about an organic baby food that was being recalled due to botulism. So organics are not free from harm and should not be touted as so until it is scientifically proven. Moreover, the USDA and others have done significant studies on the amounts of residual antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides in food that comes from animals/plants treated with such and have proven that the amounts are trace at most and show no significant difference between their organic counterparts.
The second reason I am troubled by her quote is because she is stepping on one type of farmer in order to promote another type of farmer. If one can afford organic food and believes it is the best option for them and their family, by all means they have the freedom to buy it and enjoy it. But when those same people choose to put down the conventional farmers in the process, I cannot be silent. I therefore chose to write a letter to the editor of the Tallahassee Democrat in response to the above published statement. It follows:
As the proud wife of an American farmer, and part owner of a small family farm in Jefferson County, I have some concerns with Cristin Burns’ quote in the article “Down on the Farm” printed on Sunday October 18. She contrasts the “conventional agribusiness way of farming” (as she puts it) with the farms on her upcoming tour that have a “philosophical belief in the way they farm and in providing products that are free from harm.” What is being left out of a loaded comment such as hers is that the conventional agribusiness way of farming (versus a purely organic farming model) is what brought America from a third world country to a first world country. It is also this exact model that keeps our grocery stores full of safe, affordable, and abundant food and therefore our fellow man from starving. Furthermore, we as traditional conventional row crop farmers most certainly have strong philosophical beliefs in the way we farm, and strive to provide products that are free from harm. I stand behind all American farmers, conventional or organic, who tirelessly work to provide the food, fiber, and now fuel that we all enjoy on a daily basis. (end of letter)
It is great that so many people have taken a recent interest in where their food comes from and also how to support local farms. In this process however, we have seen first hand that misinformation from the media can serve to negatively impact conventional American agriculture. As conventional row-crop farmers, our family plays a significant role in providing the food staples that the world needs in order to continue eating. As long as there are mouths going hungry, conventional agriculture will be what feeds these mouths. We are proud to be a part of the big picture of feeding the world.