I’ve been working in mud a lot lately. Not just at my farm where the abnormally warm December and now January have turned parts of my yard into a premature mud season. (More on why that’s happening later). But also in the produce alley at work. I’ve been up to my elbows in Salinas Valley muck. Boxes of greens and other produce started coming in covered in mud a few weeks ago. “Desert Vegetables” the boxes proudly proclaim. They might as well say “we’re not sustainable” or “we’re destroying our aquifer” or “look at our crappy depleted soil, here‘s a sample“. Calling these veggies organic is truly stretching the term.
I took a hunk of “soil” that fell off one of the boxes, made it into a patty cake, and let it dry on the work bench. Sure enough it set up like a piece of pottery. Within an hour it was hard and dry. Now imagine how much water it takes to keep these soil friable in the arid atmosphere of the southwest. The book I use as my reference on soil science (Better Soil by Gene Logsdon) says this about organic matter in soil: “1) Feeds the microorganisms without which we would not have soil. 2) Helps make available the nutrients that are in the soil, breaking down plant food to forms plants can eat. 3) Improves the tilth of soil, so your garden is easier to cultivate. 4) Aerates soil so plants don’t suffocate. 5) Gives soil a crumbly texture that retains moisture—makes sandy soil hold together better and clay soil crumble apart better. 6) Aids soil to resist water and wind erosion for the same reason. 7) Causes soil to warm up faster in spring, by darkening its color. 8) Allows man to produce food with fewer expenditures of natural resources and fossil fuels. 9) Gives food better quality and higher nutrient content.” This stuff met none of these criteria. And it is so recognizable that Mark Fulford, a local farmer and farm consultant, came by to drop off apples the other day and seeing some of the dirt on the floor said “Ah, Salinas Valley.” He says that the soil in the valley has been so over worked that they are now planting in what is essentially subsoil.
Then the New York Time caught on. In a front page article entitled “Organic Agriculture May Be Outgrowing it’s Ideals” Elizabeth Rosenthal took a journey to the deserts of Mexico to investigate “Where do organic tomatoes come from when it’s winter in New York City?” I won’t repeat everything she found. Read the article and watch her short video. It is enough to say that organic agriculture in Mexico is NOT sustainable and not truly organic.
Where does this lead us? Back to the lady and the garlic (can you tell I’m still very irritated by that encounter?) Or perhaps to another more recent meeting with a customer complaining about the quality of the tomatoes. All I could say in response was “They are coming from Mexico. It‘s not tomato season in Maine. We should be eating root vegetables and canned and frozen vegetables” Cheap garlic, greens and tomatoes from Mexico and southern California are not really cheap. They cost the local aquifer, the air we breath, the soil they are grown in and they bring into question the validity of the organic label. This last point brings an economic cost to all those local farmers who are doing it right i.e. in a manner that manages the land and water so they will still be there and usable in 10 years, 20 years and forever.
Which leads me back to my muddy yard. No one can convince me that global warming (caused by excessive carbon emission and the depletion of carbon sink forests and healthy aquifers) is not responsible for the puddle my sweetheart had to stand in while doing his decorative shingling project this weekend. Mud season 3 months early caused by the carbon emissions contributed to by trucking tomatoes from Mexico in January.