Thursday, January 21, 2010

Is Farm Town certified Organic?

Thank you all so much for your thoughtful comments. We received lots of feedback both on the general principals of buying/eating organic, and the more specifics of our farm's certification. Most people seemed to feel that the personal relationship that they have with Broadturn Farm, and with us "your farmers" supersedes the necessity of being certified organic. However there was also lots of support for the concept of organic agriculture and certainly nearly everyone who responded indicated that where there was no personal relationship with a producer, the organic label factors very high on the list of people's buying priorities.
A few people said that being certified organic with MOFGA specifically was an important investment for our farming (and eating) community. As farmers we certainly share that belief. MOFGA has done wonderful organizing and lobbying work in Augusta as well as in Washington D.C. That being said, certification is managed by an independent entity: "MOFGA Certification Services" with plenty of collaboration but little financial or legal overlap. Many farmers (like the Snell Family Farm I believe) are supporting members of MOFGA without being certified by MCS.
The stack of papers before me on the desk is this year's overly bureaucratic manual and forms which will occupy me for the next few days. We will pony up the $800 to be certified for another year. Being involved in other markets (farmer's market, some limited wholesale, and even our event hosting market) will certainly benefit from certification. But every year we do seriously debate this issue, and every year we see more and more farms opting out of certification in favor of the trust of their local markets. We'll be double-certified this year with Certified Naturally Grown, to see how it works, and to spread the word on this alternative label. As it is, we'll be sure to squeeze the value of Certified Organic when we need it, and ignore it entirely when we don't... --because there will hopefully come a time when we will not use it...
Seed ordering is done, hiring new employees is nearly done, purchasing equipment is on track, even the farm-plan (what gets planted, where, how, when, how much etc.) is nearly done.
Here's a glimpse of the Googledoc layout and the Google Maps field:

This brings me to another topic of interest to me. Virtual Farming.
In 2001 when Stacy and I started farming together, I became aware of Harvest Moon, a video game for Nintendo. Clicking on rocks and weeds to clear a field for planting, our friend's 9 year old son was mesmerized at the screen. Without shooting guns, or hand-to-hand combat (my personal criteria for a good video game) this "simulation" of farming was holding all of his interest. Click. Click. Click. Slowly the field was cleared to a beautiful sienna brown, and the little animated avatar walked in a straight line to the farm store to buy the corn seed. I felt then that I was glimpsing a hidden truth of humanity. Virgin land was taken into profitable domestication. Nature was directed and trained by the grace of a good husband. So it was on a screen. Was this still not the echos of the agrarian call? From a time when all of us (ALL of us except a tiny fraction of brutish dictators and quixotic wanderers) were engaged in agriculture-- a pursuit written into our genes, let alone our culture, even in our post-industrial end of nature times, can be heard this echo. Perhaps, it is only now, with several generations between us and the farmers in our heritage that some of us allow that pull of the good husband to exert itself. Well, perhaps "exert" is a poor word choice.
More recently I became aware of Farm Town. (If you are not technologically in the swing of things, bear with me for a second.)

Farm Town is a Facebook-based multi-player game which seems to be similar to Harvest Moon except other people play along with you, and moreover, by relying on that community (or neighborly-ness) as a farmer you get more ... points. Now you can imagine my ears really perking up! I know for a fact that there are those among our CSA community who play or have played this game: this is not my crazy imagination! I encourage you to read the Wikipedia entry on Farm Town, and, even better FarmVille, which was created after Farm Town got too crowded. Yes this is popular: at least 73.8 million users for FarmVille alone!
The echos of our agrarian past are getting louder... until this past season there was SILENCE... The Farm Town servers (where the on-line game is hosted) crashed! Virtual farmers couldn't log on. They couldn't harvest their crops!
This past summer (in the real world), as it rained and rained, seeds rotted in the ground, and plants languished in pools of water, if I had been paying a little bit more attention I would have found sympathy on the internet.
I continue to be fascinated by this phenomenon. There have always been small farm fantasies. From the 1800's (browse through this archive) until the 1960's there have been practical books to buying, appointing and running a small farm.
After the second half of the 20th century the proposition became much more fanciful, and despite some notable exceptions a small farm was not practical enough to publish a serious book on the matter. The digital age has changed some of that. There are now lots of practical guides to starting up your own farm. But hey-- lets be honest: Why do you need to? With Farm Town and FarmVille, soon we'll all be virtual farmers! Even the few remaining real farmers can retreat to virtual farms! Soon ALL of us will be virtual farmers. (ALL except for a tiny fraction of brutish luddites, and quixotic ... agrarians.)
(one last link: a "rehab" Facebook site encouraging Farm Town addicts to start a real farm. Their goal is to covert 1% of virtual farmers into real farmers! almost three quarters of a million people! Good luck!)
--Blessings on the meal (Stacy says that's sacred so I can't spoof it!)

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