For fellow students of food and farming

 

John, Lulu

I'm your farmer--John Ledbetter. Diana, my spouse, has her own full time-plus work, but she usually manages to make time to pick heirloom tomatoes. Lulu has taken on the Office of Bird and Small Mammal Harassment. Lyndon, Chief Compost Officer pictured below, regrettably died recently. My story: I just could not stay away from dirt. My parents supported the family by farming, but I decided early it would not pay and so studied business and went into restaurant management. When that got old I took up grad school at the University of TX and stayed enough years for a doctorate in history. I taught at various Texas universities, then joined a mutual fund company and helped clients interpret IRS retirement account rules. But the autonomy and outdoor nature of farming brought me back to it in 2010. Thanks to the help and support of so many, it has been a nice run!

 

Resources

The following examine and debate organic food and production.

Close to home, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture's Organic and Sustainable Crop Production group publishes a wealth of organic production aids and will link you to almost anything farming you could wish to explore. They also host organic production workshops.

In 2012 Stanford University released an analysis of multiple studies of the relative nutrition provided by organic and conventionally-grown foods, and came to a conclusion different than that reached by staff at Newcastle University in England. Stanford found no nutritional advantage, while Newcastle reported organic superiority. See a meta-analysis of the meta-analyses in the New York Times.

The Environmental Working Group gathers research and data regarding food contamination by pesticides.  See their list of most- and least-contaminated foods. See also the summary by Consumers Union of comparisons of organic v. conventional pesticide residues. The journal Environmental Health Perspectives frequently publishes discussions of health and food. See particularly their article on organophosphate levels in children: these insecticides can cause neurological difficulties, especially in children, but an all-organic diet lowered urine concentration to near undetectable levels in only five days.

The Rodale Institute has long researched organic methods: see a summary of their long-term study comparing organic to conventional yields, soil, quality, and costs. A similar, long-term study of crop yields,"21 Years of Organic and Conventional Cropping Systems Research,") is published by the Southwest Research and Outreach Center at the University of Minnesota. See also their "What is Organic Food and Why Should I Care? (both titles are best searched by web, given the number of SWROC publications.)

For a friendly skeptic's look at local food, organics, and the politics of American agriculture, read James E. McWilliam's Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly.

If you wish to consider certification, or just follow USDA organic rules, see the Department's overview, including the National Organic Program Handbook for guidelines. The Organic Materials Research Institute (OMRI) verifies products as organic, and lists both those products as well as generic materials suitable for organic production. See also their listing of organic seed vendors. The state of Washington also maintains a list of vetted materials. Ohio's Ecological Food and Farm Association is another good information clearinghouse.

Finally, a couple of helpful sites, idiosyncratic as they may seem for Tennessee. Howard Garrett of North Texas (the Dirt Doctor) has done much to promote organic gardening, and much of his knowledge and work applies universally (and is laid out nicely on his site). Boggy Creek Farm began in 1992 as one of the few certified, urban, organic farms in the country. Their market is well worth a visit if you are in the Austin area. The proprietors taught me much one summer.

 

The ladybug logo is derived from the photo by Jon Sullivan, http://pdphoto.org/. Other photos by Diana or me. Thanks also to William and Ruben for site ideas!