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Are You Organic?

Our response to a question from one of our customers See additional pages on Integrated Pest Management

The issue of organic vs. non-organic is not as easy to answer as it may seem. To quote a respected orchardist, Ezekiel Goodband of Vermont- "While growing tree fruit organically might be a more lucrative approach, it simply isn't the most environmentally responsible way of growing fruit. My goal is to grow safe food in an ecologically sound and responsible way. The notion that 'organic is good, everything else is bad' is an overly simplistic idea. Farming practices and food safety are complex issues that deserve thoughtful consideration."

Generally speaking, when people are looking for organic produce they are seeking officially certified products that meet government labeling regulations. There are a number of practices allowed or required in certified organic farming that negatively impact the environment and food safety much more than our methods.

As one example, organic farming can involve massive use of sulphur, which in the opinion of many observers, is unacceptable because of the impact that has on the eco-system of the orchard. It acidifies the soil and ground water and eliminates the earthworm population, for instance. Most progressive farmers today are taking an Integrated Crop and Pest Management (ICM and IPC) approach to farming because they feel that this approach is much more conducive to ecologically sound farming than organic farming methods are.

With this approach they are able to keep insect and diseases monitored and controlled through cultural and biological practices, intervening with a chemical spray only as a last resort. Reproductive cycle interference is showing the most promise right now for insect control, and we are on the cutting edge of this exciting new technology.

It may help to put things in perspective. Fruit growers live and raise their children right in the midst of the orchard. They are therefore more immediately concerned with safe farming practices than anyone. Betsy is an active member of the Soil and Conservation board here and was just elected to the local school board. John is a board member of the Cherry Marketing Institute, and the grower's cooperatives, and ic commited to learning and using the most up-to-date and progressive farming technology. They are committed to the health and well being of their farm workers as well, who have been with them for 20 years now and have raised their families on the orchard land.

If modern fruit growing practices were unsafe, we would logically expect to find cancer and immune system disorder clusters amongst farming families, since they are continually exposed, and their children eat the fruit right of the tree sometimes on a daily basis. However, this is decidedly not the case. A recent Wirthlin Worldwide study found that Michigan cherry growing families have substantially lower rates of cancer and immune system disorders than the general population.

Obviously, working in an orchard and consuming large amounts of fresh fruit has a decidedly positive effect on health, not a harmful one. We can say with confidence that the orchard environment is relatively safe when compared to other work environments. Certainly safer than many urban settings, certainly safer than our polluted highways and waterways and far than many office environments. The modern chemicals being used are increasingly safe and often bio-degradable and do not remain on the fruit nor do they contaminate the ground water. The fruit is thoroughly washed the minute it comes off of the tree, and then transfered to two additional rinses before packaging or processing.

We share your concerns about the safety of the food we all eat, and appreciate your question. I hope this sheds some light on this complex subject for you.

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4620 N. M-88
Central Lake MI 49622

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updated- July 14th, 2003
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