Like doctors who take the Hippocratic oath – “First, do no harm” – organic farmers seek to produce food without creating the dangerous bi-products characteristic of industrial farming methods.
Additionally, they pledge to enhance soil fertility and exclude chemical toxins from their growing methods.
Organic farmers improve soil fertility through the application of compost and minerals and the plowing in of cover crops – sometimes called green manure.
The goal is to not only provide the needed nutrients that vegetable roots absorb directly, but to increase the amount and diversity of sub soil microbial activity that plants coexist with and depend on for vigorous growth.
A scant teaspoon of healthy soil contains on the order of a million species of bacteria plus countless numbers of fungi, protozoans, nematodes, arthropods, and earthworms – all interacting to form a food web with the vegetables we eat. Remarkably, the total mass of a healthy sub-soil biosphere greatly exceeds that of all the plants and trees we see above ground.
Vegetable plants use the sub-soil biosphere in complex ways. Their roots support bacterial mats, which protect them against harmful bacteria and diseases. And beneficial fungi on the root hairs extend the capture area for nutrients that cannot be absorbed in other ways. Through these mechanisms, organically grown vegetables produce nutrient-complete food and naturally resist disease and pests.
Industrial crop farming relies on pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and chemical fertilizers to control insects, disease, weeds and fertility. These chemicals sharply reduce or destroy the subsoil biosphere and have been implicated in cancers and other diseases.
Once begun, the chemical method of farming is hard to reverse. Plants become weak and less able to withstand stress from insects and disease, which requires the application of more chemicals.
As consumers who often support industrial farming by buying its products, we must remember that pesticides and herbicides affect all who come in contact with the toxins – farm workers, packagers, florists and wildlife of all kinds, including those countless fungi and nematodes.
As with row crops, the differences between organic and industrial poultry farming are huge. Organic standards mandate access to the outdoors, which reduces the suffering that is standard for factory-raised animals. They also require certified organic feed, whereas food for most industrial poultry includes animal parts, manure, and antibiotics.
At White Gate Farm, we go the extra mile: our chickens and turkeys spend most of their time outside in the pasture eating the food nature intended – grass and bugs. When they are in the winter house and pen we supplement their store-bought feed with fresh greens.
Industrial farming methods for both produce and poultry have become so standard that many people doubt it is possible to farm productively without toxic chemicals. However, last year our small acreage produced 17.5 tons of vegetables that were nutritious, delicious and beautiful as well as some 300 poultry and countless eggs.
As testimony that our methods protect the soil and water, the farm is home to a wonderful array of wildlife: dragon flies and praying mantises; tree frogs, bull frogs and mid-sized frogs; salamanders, skunks, foxes and coyotes; herons, hawks and egrets; and more than 50 additional species of birds.