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Hello. The big, if somewhat wifty, picture. I’m warning you. I’m going to be a little philosophical here in a moment. A confluence of events is to blame. I listened to Teresa Heinz-Kerry speak at the Democratic convention, and she quoted Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, which had me in tears (where are all the poet/philosopher/politicians when you need them?). Then, a few days later I was editing a transcription of a speech that peach grower and author Mas Masumoto gave at the Eco-Farm conference earlier this year. He was talking about why memory is the critical ingredient that turns good food into wonderful food by connecting people with special moments in their pasts.

It all got jumbled in my mind with the question of politics and farming—which over 50 of you chimed in on in emails to me—and, then, the bigger question of why we do what we do. Not the reasons we give ourselves in the light of day, but the vague, inchoate hopes and longings that visit us at night. So ….

Why do we do what we do? Why do we farm, why do we work hard to build community, to develop local food systems, or grow a business? After the money is deposited, the dirt and sweat cleaned off, and as we fall, exhausted, into clean sheets, this is the dream that intrudes, this is why we care:

In a land that no longer values what came before, or what is to come, we are braiding, with our own lives, a continuity from the past into the future. We are cementing with our sweat “the mystic chords of memory, stretching … to every living heart and hearth-stone,” as Abraham Lincoln said in his First Inaugural Address. And as Mas Masumoto would say …. stretching to every peach and tomato and pear.

This fabric of memory connecting us to past, present and future, to people living and dead … in my opinion, on the most fundamental of levels, this is what organic agriculture is all about. It’s an affirmation and acknowledgment of our interconnectedness.

Now, where does politics fit into this picture? Politics is the messy, bloody birthing of our hopes and dreams into flesh. Without it, all our hopes remain only dreams. Every act does have political consequences, and politics is the art of working together as individuals within a society to make sure the rules are in concert with our dreams. As one reader, Catherine, wrote: "Although we don't like it, politics is a part of everyday life, and we need to speak out globally if we are to sustain a healthy planet." For more reader comments on the "politics vs. practical" debate, click here.

Speaking of labor pains… Everywhere we go, organic farmers are distressed over the issue of labor. People like Tim Voss at Blue Heron farm in California want to pay living wages, offer decent housing, and adequate benefits without--and this is the trick--breaking the bank. In this issue we have two pieces that address the issue of labor. One is on the ground and in the trenches. Linda Halley of Harmony Valley Farm in Wisconsin updates us on the arduous process of making sure her Mexican workers are fully legal. The other is a broad and detailed analysis of the state of the farm worker in America, including pespectives on labor issues from specific farms in California. It was written by David Kupfer, a writer, activist and grower in Northern California.

A few of my favorite things ... Here are my personal favs in this issue of The New Farm:

  • In the next installment of his Pan-American Adventure, Don Lotter takes us into the home and hearts of a farm family making it work in the harsh climate of western Mexico.
  • David Mas Masumoto, the well-known farmer and author of Epitaph for a Peach takes readers on a journey into the pleasures and power of memories associated with food. I strongly recommend doing the memory exercise he describes--if for no other reason than to do a better job connecting with your customers.

Two new features this issue: Welcome to two new ongoing features.

  • Jim Riddle, an organic inspector and longterm member of the National Organic Standards Board, introduces his biweekly Inspector's Notebook. This week--lots of ways to make life easier for you and your inspector.
  • Courtney White, co-founder and executive director of the Quivira Coalition, kicks off his new monthly column, The New Ranch: Rethinking Range Management in the Arid West. This month-- revitalizing a tired piece of range land in North Central New Mexico.

Chris Hill, Executive Editor

Don't forget to check out our latest Organic Price Index. Coming tomorrow, August 4: All new prices for the Grassroots OPX. Nineteen markets in 15 states.


Western Mexico: Into the home and hearts of a farm family in tequila country. See Pan-American Adventure, below and left.

The Cut Flower Column is BACK: Mel Devault is back with new insights on mistakes she's made, and advice on keeping your flower supply constant all season long. See below for more.

Michigan State student farm: With its greenhouses and 48-week CSA, something magic is happening at the student organic farm up there in East Lansing. See below for more.

Great snakes alive! Andy Griffin's garlic snakes (or scapes) could be a good part of his business. He's not sure yet. See below for more.


Fresh today from The New Farm®

CSA NOTEBOOK: Harmony Valley Farm, Wisconsin

UPDATE: A legal immigrant odyssey
In the spring, Linda Halley wrote about their decision to go legal with their Mexican help. Now, in the thick of the season, she sends an update.

At right: Nehemias Zuniga and Antonio Cervantes, two of the four proud holders of H2A temporary work visas at Harmony Valley Farm.


CSA Notebook

Striving for Social Sustainability in Agriculture
Organic farming endeavors to improve the health of the consumer and the environment, but what about the farm worker?

Farm workers



Garlic Snakes
Andy discovers how his first-ever planting of stiff-necked garlic got it's scientific name and stumbles upon another marketing gimmick--spicy serpents.

  CSA Journal

Letter from NY:

"Farms R Us?"
Part 2: Exploring the successful management practices on one farm that could possibly be transferred to another.

Also, as promised last newsletter:

What can I use to boost my soil fertility?
The real key to soil fertility involves complex and slow moving agronomic management. But you have a deficiency now. Klaas and Mary-Howell Martens explain how to temporarily boost your soil fertility while you're waiting for those long-term practices to kick in.


Letter from NY

Boosting soil fertility

Eco-Farm Keynote: David ‘Mas’ Masumoto
STORIES: How farmers can help people
connect food with memory

In his own joyous, infectious style, author and peach farmer Mas Masumoto demonstrates how stories and memories turn good food into wonderful food – and how recapturing that connection for people is critical to the success of organic farming.
  Mas Masumoto

Big things on a little place
On Sandia Pueblo in north-central New Mexico, Sam Montoya revitalized a tired piece of land—and is now earning a comfortable retirement income.


New Ranch

STUDENT FARMS: Michigan State University

Fertile Minds

Innovative MSU ag professor sows the seeds for a new generation of organic farmers.
  Student farm

The Inspector’s Notebook

Expecting the inspector?
9 tips to shorten your inspection time, from Jim Riddle.

  Inspector's Notebook

Insights and experiences from organic farms

ENTRY 3: Discovery zone
From finding hidden treasures inside a bed of weeds, to a real lesson in trust, to creating a fruit display by recycling boxes, our interns learn that observation, innovation and persistence are critical components of farming.


Intern Journal



For the beginning grower

Summer madness, and mistakes
Fresh from the Mid-Atlantic meeting of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, Mel and ASCFG president Bob Wollam share mistakes they made this summer and Mel details what it takes to have a continuous flower supply for a 25-week farmers' market season.

Questions, questions...
Purchasing supplies; locating used coolers; handling flowers with "irritating" sap; and what sells best in Mel's area.


Cut flowers


Living the good life on Australia’s Gold Coast
Heirloom livestock integrated with tropical perennials helps couple toward self-sufficiency.

Gold Coast


Susanna’s Costa Rican Sojourn: Finca la Bella

A farm of one's own
In the northeastern cloud forests, a decade-old cooperative project has helped landless Costa Ricans work toward economic independence and ecological sustainability


Costa Rica


On the trail of sustainable farming in Latin America

In Agave country … and no one can afford to grow it!
In the tequila country of Western Mexico, Don meets a farm family mending fences, and learns a lot about local corn, local booze, the best ropes, the economics of the Agave … and about the poignancy of a man’s abiding love for his horse.


Agave Country

AND . . .





What is required for organic greenhouse production?

Last issue, one of our reader farmers helped us answer a question about controlling grassy and broadleaf weeds in a strawberry patch planted in black plastic. A couple of other readers have since weighed in with their own suggestions.

Nix the politics on the New Farm web site? The answer is NO. Most of the 50 plus readers who responded to our question preferred a mix of the practical and political. Check out their comments.

Dear Jeff: In our last issue, farm manager Jeff Moyer answered a question about protecting cherry trees from birds, squirrels and other would-be fruit robbers. Since then, one of our readers offered another solution ...

Dear Jeff: I read your post on New Farm about hairy vetch, and I was wondering if you could recommend a place to buy hairy vetch seeds.

TALKING SHOP: Conference on Biological Control and Organic Production, July 15 to 17, UC Berkeley

California conference features non-proprietary approaches to pest control and organic production

Lots of promising research on biofumigants, beneficial insects, parasite-suppressing soils, habitat management for pest control, cover crops and compost—despite university administrations fixated on attracting the big money for research into proprietary biotechnologies.
  Biological controls

Bookstore Updates and Reviews

Check out our new annotated list of publishers and booksellers specializing in sustainable ag books, plus new featured titles on agroecology, organic farming in California, books by Mas Masumoto, and books on animal health and nature farming. Plus, new book reviews:

Check The New Farm home page for the latest news, a new Dr. Don research update and a new Final Word from ag curmudgeon Alan Guebert. Enjoy.
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