Organic and Local (or Eating Romaine in Spite of the Ban!)

I’ve fielded some questions lately from our members about the quality of and sources of the food that is in our shares and offered as Extras.  I think some of the answers below might help folks in general get a better view of where to go for good food and some of the broader implications.

Photo by: Mark J. Terrill
Romaine lettuce still sits on the shelves as a shopper walks through the produce area of an Albertsons market Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, in Simi Valley, Calif. Health officials in the U.S. and Canada told people Tuesday to stop eating romaine lettuce because of a new E. coli outbreak. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

With the Romaine lettuce recall, growing understanding of the prevalence and harm of pesticides and lack of transparency and honesty in our larger food system, it’s very understandable that, even in the realm of local foods and CSA, people are nervous about their food and are rightly asking questions! The CDC had to ban all Romaine lettuce in November because the tainted lettuce could not be tracked accurately enough back to the growers to single out the problematic stream.  Meanwhile, our members were eating Romaine we knew was grown, handled safely, and delivered by a farm we trusted directly into their hands.

The key here is knowing your growers or at least buying directly through someone you trust who knows the growers!  This direct to consumer relationship supports the  grower in setting the bar higher, knowing people care and are paying attention, sustaining their resolve for integrity and continual improvement, and vigilant to sustain their families, their crew, their land. their businesses, and all the life that supports and is affected by their growing.

Rob, Meghan, Cayden, and Charley, owner/growers at Riverland farm

A foundational purpose and value of Shared Harvest is supporting local growers who care for their land and communities.  Our entire share and most of our Extras are grown within 100 miles of our pickup location by  small scale family farms that I know personally.   Our shares are composed of 100% certified organic veggies, certified organic dried beans, and IPM apples (see below).  I’ve become personally acquainted with the land and know the farmers that grow the shares and most of our Extras, including those who sell us meat and cheese.

All of the Extras we offer are made of food grown only in New England (with few exceptions like salt or spices).  Many farmers markets and farm stands, including Wright-Locke, widen the offerings to include small scale local producers who may source ingredients from regions beyond.  At some pickups,  we make available this broader offering as “Extra Extras”, as we help Wright-Locke and Picadilly close down their regular season inventory of added value goods.

All farms we work with are certified organic, except for the following:
1.  The apples and cider come from an IPM farm, Cider Hill Farm.  Apples and other tree fruit can be tricky to grow using no pesticides, as fruit trees involve very long term growing situations and can have long transition periods to regenerate ecology above and below ground over the course of a long growing season, and with much loss along the way. IPM (“Integrated Pest Management”) when done right, can actually involve fewer pesticides than even certified organic fruit, and features the grower (in this case, Glenn Cook, farmer-owner of 30+ years) carefully scouting for problems and imbalances prior to any intervention, as well as cultural interventions such as new and improved breeds, soil amendments, etc.  Whereas, certified organic at this point does allow some sprays of non-persistent chemicals such as copper, etc. that might do harm and can be overused if scouting is not part of the program (and it’s not required for certification).

grazing herd at Alprilla

2.  While they are not certified, Noah and Sophie at Alprilla Farm work in harmony with a beautiful landscape, surrounded by biodiverse natural forest, grassland, and marshland communities, use smart holistic farm planning and management, and teach classes on biological soil regeneration for other growers and gardeners. In comparison to certified organic in stores or at the farmers market, their food is the same or better nutritionally and certainly safe from pesticides. This season’s

Noah plowing with oxen

Extras from Alprilla included garlic, shallots, potatoes, beets, celeriac, parsnips,and the grain flours.  Alprilla utilizes the latest in soil-building practices, including holistically managed grazing, carefully trained and timed animal impact in the crop fields (with oxen!), carefully balanced compost and soil amendments, and the invaluable effect of vigilant growers in the field every day.

3.  The frozen blueberries are from non-certified, ecologically managed farms in maine and Nova Scotia. We source these from Forest Hills Farm via Blue Sky Produce, a distribution channel founded by a friend who was a farmer herself and now runs this program to guarantee good growers a better price for their efforts, helping them sustain their land, families, and communities, while keeping us healthy with their nutrient dense berries!
4.  Some of the items sold by Wright-Locke farmstand, including Walden Local Meats, are not certified organic, but most are pesticide free. As an example, Walden Local Meats are all from pastured, humanely raised animals. See Our Standards for a statement from Walden Local about these meats and some things to know about certified organic animal products.