The Organic Issue

Saturday May 19, 2012
5th and High St., 7am-12noon

There's a beautiful tapestry of tastes, textures, aromas, and colors available from local farms at this time of year. The full range of spring crops have really come into their own. Get ready to turn your creativity loose. Just imagine the bright and flavorful salads, stews, sides, and main dishes you'll be making this week with gorgeous beets, fragrant broccoli, pungent scallions, tender peas, crispy carrots, buttery cauliflower, new potatoes, and the rest of the great bounty of fresh, seasonal crops from your own local farmers at the SKY Farmers Market. Resourceful and innovative farms may even have a taste of summer for you with early tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and squash.

Spring and early summer crops in season include:

  • asparagus
  • strawberries
  • lettuce
  • spinach
  • greens
  • carrots
  • turnips
  • radishes
  • onions
  • chinese cabage
  • kohlrabi
  • peas
  • celery
  • new potatoes
  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • beans
  • zucchini
  • summer squash
  • early tomatoes

There are still plenty at the market, but the main crop of strawberries is beginning to wind down. If you absolutely must have strawberries, you might want to arrive early. On the other hand, blueberries are beginning to show their first blush of color. If they don't make it to market this week, keep an eye out for them to be arriving soon.

As in life, nothing is certain in farming but the constant ebb and flow of seasonal change. Joining in that adventure is one of the great benefits of shopping at the SKY Farmers Market, where the fruits of our own native soil pass directly from the hands of the growers to you.

See you there!

John Mellencamp Concert this Saturday May 19

John Mellencamp

John Mellencamp will be giving a Farm Aid benefit concert this Saturday at the WKU-Houchens Smith Stadium in Bowling Green. Also appearing will be Courtyard Hounds, better known as two out of the three Dixie Chicks. If you haven't gotten your free tickets yet, it's time to hustle on down to Independence Bank for tickets and more information.

The SKY Farmers Market will be there representing Bowling Green's local and regional farmers with yogurt drinks, baked goods, and berries direct from your local SKY Market farmers.

Lifesaving Tips and Training

Everyday 917 people die of sudden cardiac arrest from coronary heart disease with no warning.  The risk in adults 35 years of age and older is 1 in 1000 every year.  If CPR is started within the first 3 to 5 minutes and early defibrillation is delivered, the survival rate is almost 50%.

Emergency Medical Services Week is celebrated every May, so on Saturday, May 19th the dedicated members of the Medical Center EMS workgroup will be giving lifesaving advice as well as giving short practical lessons on easy to learn lifesaving hands-only CPR at the SKY Farmers Market.

The Medical Center Emergency Medical Services is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services and is the only accredited ambulance service in Kentucky and 1 of only 140 in the United States!  The Medical Center Emergency Services is provided by Commonwealth Health Corporation, the parent company of The Medical Center at Bowling Green.

SKY Farmers Market is grateful for its partnership with The Medical Center in Bowling Green. We encourage everybody to take advantage of this opportunity to learn from these exceptional professionals.

Understanding Organic Labeling

Farmers markets everywhere continue to add to the diversity of their offerings. This growth is a wonderful outcome for consumers and farmers alike. Local food not only tastes better, is fresher and typically more nutritious, the money spent at a local farmer’s booth stays in South Central Kentucky and helps boost the economy of the entire region.

However, with diversity also comes complexity. Just what do the labels farmers put on their products mean, and how can the educated consumer use them to better their shopping experience? Let’s look at the label of “Organic.”

“Organic” is a label that describes a production method. The short definition is production that doesn’t use synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides or other agricultural chemicals. It depends upon natural inputs such as compost, cover crops and animal manures for fertility. The rotation of crops, trap crops, predator insects, disease resistant varieties and other methods are often used to control disease and insects. When spraying is necessary, approved, non-chemical sprays are used. And, if an animal product such as meat, milk, or eggs is being labeled organic, the animal must have been fed certified organic feed its entire life.

Many small farmers grow this way. However, the only farmers allowed to label their produce as organic are those who choose to have their farm certified as organic under the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) rules. The only exception is for those who sell less than $5000 of organic product annually, and even they must be registered with the state in Kentucky.

At SKY Farmers Market, we pride ourselves on being “producer only.” We believe that it protects the consumer – YOU – to know that the produce you are purchasing was grown by the farmer behind the table. We also protect our customers by making sure that if a farmer is labeling his produce “certified organic”, he has the USDA certification, or if under the $5000 exemption, the state registration, to use the “O” label.

Does that mean that if the produce isn’t labeled “organic”, it is grown with chemicals? Not necessarily. A farmer may grow using “organic” methods, and have decided not to certify his farm. So, to be certain, you can always ask how the produce you are buying has been grown. This assurance that you can ask the farmer exactly how any product has been grown is the main strength of being a “producer only” market.

So, enjoy shopping at SKY, at the corner of Fifth and High where we are 100% Locally Grown, 100% of the time. See you on Saturday!

Farm Profile: Apple Berry Farm

George Shipley

If you spend much time talking to George Shipley, you'll realize he's one of those guys who has tried just about everything. Trained as an engineer, he designed and improved assembly plant systems for Ford. Together with his wife Jeannie, he's also been an auctioneer, a florist, restaurant owner, school janitor, and of course a farmer. Whether it's basket-making, repairing air conditioners, or catching rattlesnakes by the tail, it seems George has tried his hand at it.

Apple Berry Farm mirrors this eclectic and wide-ranging style. It takes time to appreciate all that Apple Bery Farm has to offer. Many customers stop in to buy their jams, jellies, and sugar-free apple butter, as well as their dried herbs and spice mixes, all of it made from fruit and produce grown on their own farm. They also have dried apples, fresh baked apple bread, and if Jeannie has time, maybe some pies. They sell hardwood chips for barbecues and smokers, and George and Jeannie also raise a wide range of fresh produce - from greens, fresh basil and mint, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries to garlic and tomatoes, apples, and even rhubarb and hickory nuts.

George's hand-made baskets in a variety of sizes and traditional styles hang from their canopy and are a testament to meticulous, hand-made craftsmanship. Jeannie makes rugs woven from recycled t-shirts that are eye-catchingly bright, colorful, and extremely durable.

Up until about ten years ago, they used a pretty conventional approach to farming. "A bag of lime, a bag of 10-10-10, and a bag of Sevin," says George. But eventually they became concerned about the effects of farm chemicals on health and the environment and decided to give them up.

"We went to the organic meetings," says George, "but we didn't get certified. Too much paperwork and regulations." Nor was he interested in the list of approved pesticides. "Why just swap one kind of chemical for another one?" Typically, George and Jeannie found their own way.

For fertility they rely primarily on wood chips from local tree trimming crews to mulch and enrich their soil. They don't use any pesticides at all. "We see a lot more of the good bugs now," says Jeannie. "It took a few years for them to come back, but there's a lot of them now."

George and Jeannie farm with a light touch, a good measure of tolerance, and a heaping dose of creativity. By building up their soil, accepting the challenges inherent in a natural system, and finding creative ways to make the best use of their farm's production, the Shipleys have developed a unique and bountiful farming operation, one that sustains them and enriches us all.

What is an Organic Pesticide?

When the National Organic Standards Board was deciding the standards that would apply to organic certification in the United States, a strong contingent of farmers and organic advocates argued that no pesticides at all should be allowed in certified organic production. By far the most important issue for consumers purchasing organic products is reducing their family's exposure to pesticides. It was argued that allowing a list of approved "organic" pesticides would weaken the standard, create confusion amongst consumers, and allow the opportunity for more and more dangerous pesticides to creep into the standards.

Of course, they lost the argument, and that was probably for the best. It has allowed organic agriculture to go mainstream. Despite very strong growth in the industry, demand for organic products continues to outpace supply.

So just what is an organic pesticide and in what ways are they different from those used in conventional agriculture? Specifically an organic pesticide is any pesticide allowed by the USDA's organic standard. But in the standard and in more general usage, organic pesticides are those derived from natural sources, although there are some exceptions. Many organic pesticides are also used by conventional farmers.

These naturally derived pesticides are considered to be less toxic and, importantly, less persistent in the environment compared to synthetic pesticides. However, it may be a mistake to assume that natural necessarily equals safe. Like their synthetic counterparts, natural and organic pesticides are toxic by design. And many natural pesticides also impact non-target organisms like pollinators, predatory insects, soil organisms, fish, birds, and amphibians.

Some Common Organic Pesticides

Insecticidal Soaps and Oils
These insecticides are one of the exceptions to the USDA's rules barring synthetic materials in organic production. They kill aphids, thrips, whiteflies, and other soft-bodied insects and eggs by smothering them in a coating of goo. Their impact on non-target organisms and risk to human health and the environment is minimal.

Bacillus Thuringensis
B.T. is a bacteria that gives caterpillars and certain other larvae a severe tummy ache. They stop eating immediately and die within a few days. Different strains of b.t. target specific insects. However, it's still possible for non-target moths and butterflies to be killed if they get a bite of it. Some conventionally grown corn, cotton, and potato crops have been genetically modified to contain b.t. right within their cells. Yum!

A favorite broad spectrum insecticide made from daisies, pyrethrum affects the central nervous system of insects. Pyrethrum, or more likely it's derivatives, is commonly used on animals (and people) for control of fleas, ticks and lice. Many commercially available products are more likely to contain permethrin, a synthetic pyrethroid that persists longer in the environment and is considerably more toxic. Pyrethrum has been synthesized, extracted, and mixed with other chemicals more than any other botanical insecticide. The majority of commercially available pyrethrum-based products are much more toxic and persistent than pure pyrethrum would be.

Copper Sulfate
Copper sulfate is used as a fungicide and to kill algae and snails. Mixed with hydrated lime, it is called Bordeaux Mix, which is widely used for disease control in orchards, vineyards, and on ornamentals like roses. Copper, being an element, never breaks down. It accumulates in soil so that vineyards treated with Bordeaux Mix over time have become permanently toxic to soil life and devoid of earthworms and other soil organisms. The organic standard includes restrictions to help reduce the accumulation of copper in the soil.

Organic Pesticides on Food Crops

These are just a small sampling of commercially available organic pesticides. The recent growth in the organic food market and pesticide awareness in general has led to a corresponding growth in the development of natural pesticides. Spinosad, a new insecticide derived from the metabolites of a soil organism, was found in 18.3% of samples of certified organic lettuce in the USDA's most recent survey of pesticide residues in food.

Individual farmers and gardeners have their own personal, practical, and economic reasons for their decisions about using pesticides. Although organic products and natural pesticides are clearly better for human health and the natural environment, a switch from one type of pesticide to another is just a small step toward a more sustainable agriculture. The spirit of organic and sustainable farming and gardening goes much deeper. The best farmers and gardeners, whether they claim the organic label or not, develop methods and systems that encourage natural health, vigor, and stability in their crops, on their farms, and in their local environment and communities.

USDA Organic Seal

Is it Organic?

Certified Organic
Certified and inspected by the USDA in compliance with the USDA's National Organic Program rules. Only certified organic products can use the USDA Organic seal. While there are many certified organic small farms, the majority of certified organic farmland in the U.S. is owned by large farms over 500 acres. Their domination of the market continues to grow.

Very small businesses with less than $5000 in sales are allowed to use the organic label without certification. In Kentucky they must register with the state. Sometimes restaurants, grocery stores, and direct market farmers casually mis-use the organic label. At the SKY Farmers Market vendors can not use the label without meeting the legal requirements.

Natural, Sustainable, Chemical-free, etc.
Small farmers use a variety of alternative terms to describe their growing practices. Most of these terms are entirely unregulated. Your only assurance is your own understanding of the issues and your trust in the grower. But getting to know both of them better can provide a more reliable guarantee than any label.

strawberry jam

innocent bystander

To learn more about the issue of pesticides in your food, in your environment, and in your home, visit the Pesticide Action Network website. They provide information about legislative, social, and scientific topics concerned with pesticides; tips for avoiding exposure and finding less toxic alternatives; a database of detailed scientific analyses; and just about anything else you'd want to know about pesticides (or wished you didn't).