Ask the Farmer: Seeking organic land

Rodale Institute Farm Director Jeff Moyer talks about what is happening in our fields and yours.

Sal asks:

I have been searching for land for about five years now to start a small scale organic operation (actually, it will start out as home use only until I get the hang of it).  My concern is buying a piece of land that has had herbicide or pesticide used in the last few years. I would not want to have that incorporated into the food products (vegetable or animal). How can I remove these harmful agents over time? I was thinking of allowing the existing pastures to grow and then cut and dispose of the hay. Are there certain chemicals that I should be particularly aware of when looking at pastureland?

Jeff says:

The issues of pesticide carry over are interesting and relevant but also elusive. This is because over the past 60 years many, many materials could have found their way onto the land you are looking at. And, in all reality there is no good way to know what was used or where the trace remains of it might be.

The best we can do is move forward in a positive way using organic production methods. Testing for the myriad of materials that could be there would be cost prohibitive. Many of the materials would have been broken down by the microbial life in the soil, leached from the ground or would have percolated through the soil and can now be found in the ground water. Not good but the truth. The remaining materials would be heavy metals and some of the more nasty stuff which could remain for a very long time.

The official organic standard says that we need to farm without prohibited materials or practices for at least 3 years to be considered organic. I suggest you verify that no prohibited materials or practices were used in the past two to three years and prepare to farm organically from this point on. I wouldn’t get too hung up on the remote possibilities of something more sinister lurking in the soil unless you have real reasons to suspect otherwise.

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