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Hello. Greetings from the frigid North. I had the good fortune, being the boss of this operation, to insert myself into the Eco-Farm conference last week, held on five sunny days in Monterey, CA--featuring some of the most beautiful country in the world. While out there senior writer Laura Sayre and I went to visit columnist Andy Griffin and his wife Julia Wiley. They live on a small parcel of land in Watsonville that has been in Andy’s family for over 100 years, where they’re establishing a perennial herb field, and where they raise goats and sheep and clean and store produce before delivery. Most of their farming is done 30 or so miles away, on 35 rented acres in Hollister (where land rents are a tenth of those in the Watsonville area).

We caught up with Andy late in the afternoon after a long day harvesting, cleaning and packaging veggies and greens in the Hollister fields. Andy grows year-round for 20 or so regular restaurant and retail customers. They deliver twice a week. He has 14 full-time employees working with him. And that’s in addition to the CSA operation, which will be starting up soon, and the various farmers markets they also sell at.

It put a fresh perspective for me on the complaint Northeast and Midwest farmers have—that they lose market and momentum because they can’t grow year-round. Watching someone grow year-round got me thinking that those 2 or 3 months of planning and preparation aren't half bad.

Anyway, I encourage all of you CSAers and would-be CSAers to read Andy’s column this week. Not only is it a hilarious reflection on the niggling challenges of running a CSA; it’s also a great portrait of how two farm families combine their strengths to run a great, large-scale CSA operation. Check it out here.

More about California: I’d love to bend your ear about the grassy hills with crowns of oak groves that I climbed, or the stunningly fertile fields I drove by. Instead, let me say a few words about two of the keynote speakers at the 25th annual Eco-Farm conference this year. (Eco-Farm, for those of you not familiar with it, is surely one of the best organic farming conferences in the country if not the world.)

Among the many treats at Eco-Farm his year was a stunning two-for-one plenary session titled "We Are What We Eat," featuring journalist-and-writer Michael Pollan and biologist-and-writer Sandra Steingraber. Pollan led the way with an entertaining and penetrating analysis of King Corn: "the keystone species of industrial agriculture," as he put it, "the great winner in the dance of domestication," "the biggest, fattest child to come of out of the marriage between chemicals and hybrids." The United States' 80 million acres of corn—our biggest legal cash crop—has created a crisis of overproduction whose effects are visible throughout the global economy. Many of the craziest, most damaging elements of the American agro-industrial system, Pollan argued, from confined animal feeding operations to obesity to ethanol subsidies to NAFTA, stem from the need to get rid of all that excess corn.

Steingraber's approach to the 'we are what we eat' topic was completely different but every bit as compelling. Returning to themes explored in her second book, Having Faith, Steingraber described the process of human fetal development and the exquisite sensitivity of that process to environmental toxins. The great 16th-century physician Paracelsus argued that "the dose makes the poison," and this view has shaped modern regulatory approaches to chemical contamination and human health. Recently, however, Steingraber explained, many scientists have come to believe that in fact "the timing makes the poison" and that generalized tolerance levels for toxicity ignore the increased susceptibility of humans at key developmental stages, including adolescence and old age as well as infancy. Steingraber encouraged everyone in the audience to take a strong stand against environmental contamination, particularly those contaminants that strike at the root of human life itself: "Any chemical that is known to accumulate in human breast milk and is known to interfere" with normal fetal development should be banned, she insisted.

Merrill Hall was packed (the bittersweet truth is the Eco-Farm Conference has almost outgrown the lovely facilities at Asilomar). Both Pollan and Steingraber received standing ovations.

Later in the spring we hope to provide transcripts of these inspiring keynotes, as well as transcripts of talks by the three successful farm families Eco-Farm honored this year.

By the way, Eliot Coleman and his wife Barbara Damrosch of Four Season Farm in Maine were out at Eco-Farm as well, and just by chance we’re featuring an interview with Eliot that was conducted for Georgia Organics, where he’ll be speaking in mid-February. It was pretty interesting to have Eliot out in California—the guru of season extension, talking to folks who already have a season that stretches from here to eternity. But that didn’t stop Eco-Farm from awarding Eliot and Barbara a Sustie, or Stewards of Sustainable Agriculture Award for a lifetime of work in supporting and furthering sustainable agriculture. Other Sustie winners this year were Judith Redmond of Full Belly Farm in Guinda, California, and Andy Scott and Carolyn Brown of Hidden Villa Farm and Wilderness in Los Altos, California. In addition, a new award recognizing outstanding contributions to the cause of social justice in sustainable ag was inaugurated: dubbed the 'Justie,' it was presented to Don Villarejo, co-founder and executive director of the California Institute of Rural Studies. Villarejo has dedicated his career to documenting ag labor conditions and lobbying to improve them.

Speaking of conference-related coverage: New Farm writers Dan Sullivan and Laura Sayre attended the 30th anniversary Tilth conference in November. This update, we’re featuring some of the fruits of their visit to Oregon, including profiles of two farms and a large organic produce wholesaler, and a history of Tilth. See below for more.

The FarmSelect launch. Really: FarmSelect is that calculating tool we’ve been talking about that lets you compare the economics of growing a crop organically versus conventionally, or growing two crops organically but with different yield, cost and price assumptions. The new version we’re launching today allows you more flexibility than the early model we showed you, and lets you edit any number you want in the crop budget we produce. We've also added more grains for you to model. Check it out now!

It’s still a long way from where we want it to eventually be, but I think you’ll enjoy playing around with it. If you want to interact with the guy who’s responsible for creating the tool, you can respond to him at the blog we’ve set up for FarmSelect. There’s a link to the blog on every page of FarmSelect, or you can go there now at For those of you not familiar with blogs, don’t worry. I’m a total novice, too, and it’s really easy to participate. All you have to do is click on “comments” to add your two cents.

You might also be interested to know that we're getting into the data-creation business before our next big upgrade of the tool. Why? Because the data we need on organic yields and production costs just aren't there. So in the next six months we'll be working with ag economists from around the country to generate new data. Click here for more information. If you'd like to help us with this effort, or want more information, use the blog or contact FarmSelect's manager Shep Ogden at

Finally: Not only do we hope you’ll test out FarmSelect. We also hope you’ll give us feedback, not only the current version, but on the future version which we’ll be launching in the Fall. You’ll find a link to the survey on our home page, or you can go to it right now.

Chris Hill, Executive Editor
(with help from senior writer Laura Sayre)


Look, Ma! No Weeds!
The Martens, weedmasters of Upstate New York, begin
a three-part series on early season weed management. See below for more.

Wild abundance meets CSA customer hijinks. Andy and Julia of Mariquita Farm work year round, growing and selling hundreds of different crops.
See at left and below for more on their lives ... and their CSA tribulations.

Above: 3 kinds of broccoli romanesco, one of the crops Mariquita is harvesting for restaurants and farmers markets right now.

Maine's Eliot Coleman
takes his season extension wisdom down South to Georgia.
For more, see below (and also left).

Instant cover crops. Farmer and seedsman Peter Kenagy is constantly experimenting with cover crops and native seeds. Above: Kenagy holds out a handful of phaecelia, a cover crop he's experimenting with. For more on Peter and other innovative organic farms and businesses in Oregon, see below.


Fresh today from The New Farm®
Look, Ma! No Weeds: Early Season Weed Control
Part 1: The basics of effective tillage techniques
Knowing just when to use just the right tool for just the right weed is critical to early season weed control.
  Weed control

Tilth: Celebrating 30 Years
of Organic in the Pacific Northwest

Time for change
The story of Tilth’s remarkable birth in 1974 also charts the beginnings of the sustainable agriculture movement

Scaling up
Ten years ago, Gabe Cox and Sophie Bello of Groundwork Organic in Junction City, Oregon had barely begun to think about farming. Today, they grow vegetables and fruits on over 40 certified acres and sell at 7 farmers' markets a week, in addition to managing a CSA and wholesaling. At right: Sweet peas grown in the cover of a hoop house.

The whole(sale) deal
Eugene, Oregon-based Organically Grown Company is the largest wholesaler of organic produce in the Pacific Northwest. For more than two decades, they've responded to the complex demands of an evolving organic marketplace while remaining committed to supporting local growers.

Independent Innovation
On the banks of the Willamette River, farmer and seedsman Peter Kenagy has turned his entire operation into a one-man agricultural experiment station.


Tilth history

Groundwork Organic

Organically Grown

Peter Kenagy



Blame It On The Boyfriend?
Disappearing CSA boxes. Vanishing flowers. Missing strawberry containers. Can it all be laid at the feet of ignorant or irresponsible boyfriends and husbands, or are men just a convenient excuse? Andy ponders some of the profound mysteries of running a CSA.

  CSA Journal

Welcome to Farm Select

For more information on FarmSelect and where we're heading with it, click here. OR ....


Go ahead. Click on the
logo to check it out.


Organics in the News

Reason to hope? New USDA head expresses
support for organics

In response to questions from Senator Patrick Leahy, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns promises to uphold and strengthen implementation of the Organic Foods Production Act, reports Jim Riddle.

“Organic” fertilizer may be organic,
or it might be a residual surprise

Organic farming groups request state fertilizer control officials to bring their use of the term into line with the USDA National Organic Standard – before the loose language causes more trouble.

ACTION ALERT: Confusing fertilizer labels lead to organic liability
Labeling of fertilizers, composts and other farm inputs are not regulated by the National Organic Program (NOP) but rather are controlled by the American Association of Plant and Food Control Officials (AAPFCO). Problem is, the two groups have different definitions of the term “organic"--and that difference could cost you your certification. Send your comments now to
the AAPFCO Labeling Committee.
Comments due: February 19, 2005


Reason to hope

Organic fertilizer

Action Alert


Ahead of the curve
Phil Coturri has been growing organic wine grapes in Sonoma for 25 years, and 10 years ago helped set the trend for organic olive oil production in California. For both crops, his management principles center on diverse cover crops, composts, careful use of irrigation and constant attention to the flavors of the final product.

At right: Phil and his wife Arden.


Coturri Winery

8th Annual Georgia Organics Conference

Maine organic farmer Eliot Coleman describes how to adapt his winter production strategies to milder climes
Catch Coleman's entire presentation February 11-12, 2005, at West Central Technical College in Waco, GA
  Eliot Coleman

For the beginning grower

Talking the talk: Terminology 101 for the would-be serious flower grower
Melanie, our cut flower guru, answers the question, “What do you mean when you say …?”

  Cut flowers

The Inspector’s Notebook #9
Planning the perfect rotation: A three part series on creating crop rotations

Part 2: A good transition provides the ground work for fields that are nutrient stable, disease free and haven’t washed into the local river. These ten easy rules will get you started and keep you ahead of the pests.

  Inspector's Notebook

Classified information

Wanted: Vegetable washer, small dairy farm, apprentices, pet pig.

For sale: Compact tractor, hobby farm, mobile rotary composter, Black Welch mountain sheep.

Opportunities: Seeking garden students and interns; offering two-year sustainable ag degree; looking for farm coordinator; needed--communications manager.




Dear New Farm: Can red wigglers reproduce without a sex partner?

Dear New Farm: I understand J.I. Rodale broke with biodynamic early on. Is that true? If so, why?

Reader commentary: An Indian reader ponders the parallels between ancient agricultural wisdom and current organic approaches.


Dear Jeff: What hay should I grow for my horse customers here in Mississippi?

Dear Jeff: I want to add soybeans and grains to my certified vegetable operation here in Michigan, and I want to do it no-till. Any advice?


Bookstore Updates and Reviews

Check out three great books on farm marketing and business management, as well as featured new books on understanding animal behavior and sustainable cocoa farmers in Ghana. Plus, new book reviews:

Have a book recommendation for us? Let us know by emailing senior writer Laura Sayre at

Check The New Farm home page for the latest news. Enjoy.
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