Perspectives On...

Organic and Conventional Farming

A farmer’s choice gives us all choice

Organic and conventional are often looked at as black and white. It’s either one or the other, so pick your side. But there’s actually a lot of common ground between these two farming methods, and there’s a place for both.

And for a farmer, it’s not about choosing the one style that’s best, because one isn’t inherently better. It’s about choosing what works best for the farm while still producing safe, quality food. And just like different factors might impact how you select groceries, farmers look at geography, weather, soil type, end market, type of crop, labor and equipment – all variables that make a farm uniquely different from the next one.

So, we’re sharing perspectives that look at why a farmer chooses organic, conventional … or both.

Organic and Conventional
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    "All of our fresh, local produce is grown using organic..."

    Kristin Srail

    Farmer
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    "I’d suggest there’s room for all types of farming."

    Michele Aavang

    Farmer
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    "Becoming USDA Certified Organic made sense for our farm."

    Dave Bishop

    Farmer
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    "For our farm, at this moment in time, it’s organic..."

    Trent Sanderson

    Farmer
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GROWING FRESH, LOCAL PRODUCE ON A CONVENTIONAL FARM

A passion for produce started with my dad, Wayne, before he was even out of his teen years. It also introduced him to his wife (and our mom), Daryl, who became more than a seasonal worker. Today our whole family, including us four children, plays an integral part in cultivating success for Windy Acres Farms in Geneva, Illinois.

At our farm, you’ll find high-quality fruits and vegetables picked daily and sold within 24 hours. Our farm is teeming with:
 
  • Flowers and farm-harvested honey in the spring.
  • Juicy, sweet fruits and fresh vegetables in the summer.
  • Plump pumpkins, gourds and crisp apples in the fall.
  • Christmas trees in the winter.

That’s just to name a few. And all of our fresh, local produce is grown using a mix of conventional and organic methods. It’s an approach that’s worked for 35 years – using organic practices day in and day out while only applying chemicals as a very last line of protection for our plants and produce. Watch the video to see why we believe our farming methods are a safe choice for your table and ours. 

Kristin Srail Farmer

"All of our fresh, local produce is grown using organic and conventional methods."

Kristin's Perspectives & Posts

Let's Talk Fresh Produce

Let's Talk Fresh Produce

All of our fresh, local produce is grown using a mix of conventional and organic methods. It’s an approach that’s worked for 35 years – using organic practices day in and day out while only applying chemicals as a very last line of protection for our plants and produce.

Read more >>

Yes, we use organic practices on our farm. No, you won’t find “organic” on the label.

Yes, we use organic practices on our farm. No, you won’t find “organic” on the label.

By almost all outward appearances, we’d be considered an organic farm. But, you won’t find any of our products with a “certified organic” label. Here’s why.

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YOU DON'T HAVE TO CHOOSE A SIDE

I have neighbors who grow vegetables on large amounts of land using conventional methods along a state highway, perfect for a farm stand. They don’t believe there’s anything wrong with organic, but their choice is based on the fact that organic production requires more labor which is not readily available to them.

I have other friends who grow vegetables, but their farm is off the beaten path, so they’ve chosen to load a truck and sell at farmers markets and wholesale markets in Chicago.
 
Another friend grows heirloom vegetables on a small amount of acreage using organic methods because it’s what her customers want. She’s able to comply because her small scale farm is manageable for her without much extra help. Her veggies cost more due to the cost of organic certification and market expenses, but she’s found a niche for herself and gets a premium for her products.
 
Each has chosen what works best for them, not necessarily “a side.”
 
So to consumers who are struggling with food choices amidst overwhelming labels, adjectives and headline-grabbing, myth-based marketing campaigns, I say:
 
  • Pick whatever works best for YOU.
  • Don’t be misled by fear-mongers and unjustified guilt.
  • Ask questions of those who are actually growing the food, and discount the opinions of those who must tear down someone else’s choice to make theirs look most appealing.
  • Buy what you want given your own budget and preferences.
And remember that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing; there is no rule against buying conventional one day and organic the next. Whether you’re buying food for your family at a small farm stand, the local farmers market, Jewel, Trader Joe’s, Target, or Costco – with no adjectives or a list of adjectives as long as your arm – know that there’s a farmer at the other end who made choices, too.
 
There’s no wrong answer.

"I’d suggest there’s room for all types of farming."

Michele's Perspectives & Posts

From the Farm to the Grocery Store, We All Have Choices

From the Farm to the Grocery Store, We All Have Choices

For consumers who are struggling with food choices amidst overwhelming labels, adjectives and headline-grabbing, myth-based marketing campaigns, I say pick whatever works best for YOU and know that there’s a farmer at the other end who made choices, too.

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Refusing to take part in the food fight - you don’t have to choose a side.

Refusing to take part in the food fight - you don’t have to choose a side.

I’d suggest there’s room for all types of farming methods in today’s agriculture and that they can peacefully co-exist. Every farmer I know has chosen what works best for them, not necessarily “a side.”

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Why I'm not labeling my beef as "natural" anymore

Why I'm not labeling my beef as "natural" anymore

My beef still qualifies as “natural”, but I’ll no longer use the term. You see, the word had led to some confusion. I’m making a conscious decision to opt out of unnecessary labels.

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Organic Offers a Different Approach to Farming

We’re most excited about the sense of community and the relationships we’re building. Local food systems create a community of farmers engaging a community of consumers. I enjoy the energy and excitement of it.

For us, it began back in the late 1970s when prices for traditional grains were low and neighboring farms were getting larger, less diversified, and using more fertilizers and pesticides, we thought there could be a better way, so we moved toward organic. The choices at the time were pretty much, get big, get out, or get different.
 
We began to diversify, adding beef cattle, hogs and wheat to the crop rotation (varying which crop is planted in the same field). We added legumes (hay) to put nutrients back into the soil. And around 2000 we got into veggies to satisfy a local demand. We began to change the system.
 
We use a different system to manage the weeds and pests. Most chemical pesticides (including those allowable in organic systems) kill all insects present - good guys and bad guys alike - and disrupt the natural balance that otherwise limits damage. Once you start spraying, you have to keep spraying. We encourage predatory insects (providing habitats for them), as well as using focusing on a diverse mix of plants and animals, extended crop rotations, trap crops (attracts pests away from the crop we want to grow) and other techniques designed to reduce the “competitive advantage” of harmful insects.
 
Becoming USDA Certified Organic made sense for our farm because:

  • Certification allowed us to do what we were doing before, but get paid for it through higher prices.
  • USDA certification is needed for those who buy from us and need documentation. If we’re selling to a store for example, the USDA certification becomes more important, as does our brand.
  • For our customers who buy directly from us, the USDA certification isn’t as important because they have made the effort to “know your farmer”, usually have visited the farm, and have confidence in how we operate and in what they’re buying. So there’s generally no price premium there for the paperwork in a face-to-face situation.
  • One of the advantages of local food systems is that you can actually get to know the people that produce your food and so don’t have to depend on a government certificate.

 

Dave Bishop Farmer

"Becoming USDA Certified Organic made sense for our farm."

Dave's Perspectives & Posts

Organic Offers a Different Approach to Farming

Organic Offers a Different Approach to Farming

Becoming USDA Certified Organic made sense for our farm. We don’t see organic farming as rejecting the technology used on conventional farms, but rather using it selectively and differently to benefit our kind of farm production system.

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GIVING ORGANIC A CHANCE

What we do every day isn’t any different than what our great-great-grandparents did: grow a healthy crop to feed our family and yours. But how we do it has changed dramatically. That’s because we are always using the best tools and information we have to improve the crops we grow and lessen the impact that we have on the environment.

For some, that’s using an organic farming system. For others, it might be conventional.
 
For our farm, at this moment in time, it’s both.
 
Here are a few ways organically grown fields are different from conventionally grown fields:
 
  • The crops in these fields are non-GMO.
  • Only naturally derived pesticides can be applied to help control bugs, disease and weeds.
  • These crops require more labor, tillage (turning over the soil) and different types of fertilizer – making them more expensive to grow. However …
  • Farmers receive a premium for these crops to make up for the higher cost of growing them.
Today’s farming tools, like genetically engineered seeds, synthetic pesticides, cover crops that are planted to protect the land and alternate soil cultivation methods have allowed us to take really good care of the soil in our conventional fields. Organic farming puts restrictions on some of these tools, so this type of system doesn’t innately mean we are taking better care of the environment.
 
Our crops are only as good as the foundation upon which they grow, so we monitor the soil health in all of our fields to make sure that what we are doing is environmentally sustainable.
 
At the end of the day, it’s about making the best choice for our farm and our land.

"For our farm, at this moment in time, it’s organic and conventional."

Trent's Perspectives & Posts

Field Test: Conventional Farmer Tries Organic

Field Test: Conventional Farmer Tries Organic

Each farmer makes the best choice for their farm and land. For some, that’s using an organic farming system. For others, it might be conventional. For our farm, at this moment in time, it’s both.

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Field Test: Organic or Conventional – farmland needs a blanket

Field Test: Organic or Conventional – farmland needs a blanket

We recently started experimenting with converting one of our fields to organic. We have seen some similarities between both farming methods – one of them being cover crops. Whether a field is organic or conventional, our soil needs a blanket.

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Healthy Soil, Healthy Crop

Healthy Soil, Healthy Crop

Frost seeding red clover behind winter wheat. Does that sound like a foreign language to you? Its all about cover crops. Let me explain.

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Our fields look different, but there’s a method to our madness.

Our fields look different, but there’s a method to our madness.

We are always trying something new on our farm. This year, we are using one of our fields to try a combination of two different farming methods: intercropping and relay cropping.

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Tornado Aftermath for Illinois Farmers

Tornado Aftermath for Illinois Farmers

Last Thursday, an EF4 tornado ripped through 20 miles of my community in northern Illinois. My fa

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