EXPLANATION OF GROWING PRACTICES
Here at York Farm, we use only 100% certified organic, non-GMO seeds, which other farms promoting their products as "uncertified organically grown" may not do. Additionally we use minimal organic pesticides, and those that we do use are considered some of the safest - neem oil and Bt. We practice crop rotation and scatter beneficial insect flowers all over our gardens to further aid insect pest control. Synthetic fertilizers (eg. 10-10-10, etc.) are derived, once again, from petroleum and have been found to be toxic to earthworms and the rich biota of the soil (11) - we use only compost, green manures from cover cropping, and naturally-derived, organic fertilizers like pelleted poultry manure, rock phosphate, greensand, and kelp to feed and nourish our soil. Our chickens are fed the absolute highest quality feed available from New Country Organics in Virginia - which is 100% certified organic, non-GMO, and even soy-free! Once again, this isn't something that many other local farms do because GMO-laden feed bought at any feed store is significantly cheaper...there's a reason! I think that it is imperative that local farms like our's take an adamant stance against GMOs, a completely unnatural practice, and bad big-agriculture practices in general. If anything is going to change, it has to start on the ground with farmers firmly rejecting the system that is in place.
I strongly encourage everyone to become educated about the food that you eat and to not fall prey to deceptive labeling and buzz words like "natural" or "sustainable." Remember that products sold in grocery stores are designed and labeled by huge corporations with the sole intent of selling them to you and making money! Try to eliminate as much processed food as possible and you will largely avoid any food containing GMO ingredients. Shop at farmers' markets and know your farmer, but most importantly ask questions! Food is absolutely sacred and the purpose of eating it isn't simply to fill up. It's the basis of good health, so consider a few more dollars spent on a head of lettuce or a dozen eggs from a farmer who you trust an investment into the health of your body. I wish that there was no need for discretion at a grocery store or market, that you could trust that everything was organic and healthy. I hope that one day that will be the case.
People often cite that the reasons they shop at a farmers' market are the connection of "knowing your farmer" and knowing where the food that they eat comes from. The importance is supporting locally grown food is obvious - why should a tomato that grows perfectly well in Mount Airy, North Carolina be shipped 2,600 miles from Salinas, California? From experience, if a tomato is picked just shy of being ripe, thus, having the most flavor, it doesn't last more than a couple of days before it's too soft to use. If that tomato was picked at the same level of ripeness in California, by the time it got loaded onto a tractor trailer, air conditioned at 45 degrees, arrived at your local grocery store, and put out on display, it would be past the point of edibility. In order to make that system work, the tomato is picked green or just starting to ripen, so that it is "fresh" when it arrives for you to buy. Buying local produce not only stimulates the local economy, but it just tastes better. Unfortunately, that is just the beginning of the problem.
The larger and more insidious issue plaguing the food system in this country is the excessive and thoughtless use of chemicals and genetic engineering in the production of the food destined for our bodies. Agricultural chemicals can be divided into two categories - herbicides and pesticides. Herbicides are used to control unwanted plants (weeds) and pesticides are used to control insect pests in agricultural systems. There are too many varieties of both types of chemicals to discuss here, and a quick Google search of pesticide use in vegetable production will yield more information than you probably want to know (just make sure it's from a reputable source). And this chemical use isn't just limited to non-organic, conventional growing. Although derived from natural sources and readily biodegradable, many pesticides approved for USDA certified organic agricultural practices are toxic to humans and animals (1). Additionally, some of the most commonly used pesticides - sulfur compounds and mineral oil (2) - in commercial organic vegetable operations are derived from petroleum (3), the foundational material of the chemical industry! That doesn't seem very organic at all. This is not only misguiding but an egregious cheapening of the organic label that people have come to trust. On the bright side, awareness of the broader negative effects of conventional pesticides is growing and some that were used for many years have been banned. There is still a long way to go.
Commercial vegetable production is, of course, the business and passion of York Farm. Its an area of the economy that is growing, so to speak, all across the country with small farms supporting people's increasing desire for honest food. But it is only in its infancy - the vast majority of agriculture in the United States is dedicated to corn, soybeans, and large commodity crops. Vegetables only occupy a fraction of a grocery store while products containing these three commodities occupy the vast majority. They are the plastic backbone of a food system that has led to widespread diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and weight gain. This is the heart of the problem. If you know nothing about the modern agriculture of corn, soybeans, and other large scale commodity crops and why they're a problem, consider this a primer.
Let's start with the soil. Conventional (non-organic) agriculture views the soil as nothing more than a holding place and physical support for plants. Plants need a multitude of nutrients but three elements were found to significantly encourage plant growth. Nitrogen, Phosphate, and Potassium-containing compounds are the most common ingredients of synthetic fertilizers and the three numbers often seen on the packaging denotes their content in the fertilizer (e.g. 10-10-10). All of these ingredients are derived from petroleum and their unnaturally high levels of N, P, and K have been found to be toxic to soil life such as bacteria, microbes, and earthworms. The typical trajectory for fertilizer efficacy is that for the first few years of use crops yields are consistently high. Gradually, however, yields drop as the rich life within the soil structure begins to die with increasing fertilizer application. In other words, the effectiveness of the fertilizer is largely contingent on the presence of microbes, etc. that convert its ingredients into usable forms for plants. This is the fundamental problem in synthetic fertilizer use and just one more unnatural, unhealthy practice employed by conventional agriculture.
After fertilizer is spread onto a field, the weeds need to be dealt with. Beginning with its discovery by Monsanto in the mid-1970s, the herbicide glyphosate - commonly known as Roundup - has proliferated in use from agricultural purposes to home weed control. It can be bought at any hardware store and has become a multi-billion dollar market worldwide (5), and is the most used herbicide in the world (8). It was originally created to allow farmers to kill nearly every weed in a field without any tillage (6), the process of mechanically breaking up the soil and root systems with a tractor. In the 1980s, Monsanto sought to immunize, in a sense, crops grown on a large scale to the effects of its own creation, Roundup. This would allow farmers to chemically kill weeds competing with their commodity crops rather than, once again, mechanically cultivating. Sure enough, in 1996 they succeeded and began selling "RoundUp Ready" soybean seeds. Within the next two years, the same resistance to glyphosate was introduced into canola, cotton, and corn seeds. By 2011, sugarbeets and alfalfa were made "RoundUp Ready" (7). Now it just seems odd that a chemical discovered to kill nearly all plants unselectively is heavily sprayed on hundreds of millions of acres of food crops across this country without killing them.
Resistance to the herbicide glyphosate, although explained in glossy and positive terms by Monsanto on its website, isn't a natural thing. In fact it is so far from anything nature could do on her own that it's no wonder that a chemical company discovered it. To make a long story short, after years of research Monsanto scientists discovered a gene responsible for glyphosate resistance in a strain of bacteria that they found in one of their waste facilities (9). In other words, in their chemical waste dump. Through biotechnology, they were able to isolate the gene from the bacteria and insert it into the DNA of a soybean seed. All they had to do then was plant the seed, watch the plant grow, and collect the seeds in which the glyphosate-resistance gene persisted. A similar history exists for all of the other crops that have been genetically modified (GM) to resist either herbicide or to produce an inherent insecticide to confer insect pest resistance to a plant. Just how widespread are GM crops in the United States? In 2010, 93% of all soybeans, 78% of all cotton, and 70% of all corn grown in the U.S. was GM to resist glyphosate (10). If you included all genetic modifications, the percentages would be even higher.
Sure, it's not natural at all, but why is genetic modification such a problem? The short answer to this question is that scientists simply don't know the long term effects of human consumption of GMO food. This isn't solely due to the fact that they have only been on the market for twenty years, but also that no long term epidemiological studies have been conducted. I will quote from a factsheet put together by a friend in India and sent to the government officials in his valiant fight to keep GMOs out of his country.
GMOs (or “genetically modified organisms”) are living organisms, whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering, or GE. This relatively new science creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacteria and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.
The conceptual basis of its science lies on the obsolete dogma that collapsed with the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003. The dogma said that a DNA gene exclusively governs the molecular processes that give rise to a particular inherited trait.
What the Human Genome Project revealed is that there are far too few human genes to account for the complexity of our inherited traits or for the vast inherited differences between plants and, say, people.
The fact that one gene can give rise to multiple proteins also destroys the theoretical foundation of a multi-trillion dollar industry, the genetic engineering of food crops.
In genetic engineering, it is assumed, without adequate experimental proof, that a bacterial gene for an insecticidal protein, for example, transferred to a corn plant, will produce precisely that protein and nothing else. Yet in an alien genetic environment, alternative splicing of the bacterial gene might give rise to multiple variants of the intended protein -- or even to proteins bearing little structural relationship to the original one -- resulting in unpredictable effects on ecosystems and human health.
Virtually all GMOs are engineered to withstand direct application of herbicide and/or to produce an insecticide. Despite biotech industry promises, none of the GMO traits currently on the market offer increased yield, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition, or any other consumer benefit.
Meanwhile, a growing body of evidence connects GMOs with health problems, environmental damage and violation of farmers’ and consumers’ rights.
Are GMOs different than their natural counterparts?
The manufacturing companies, especially Monsanto, seem to have a divided mind about this. When they present GMO crops to the Food and Drug Administration for safety assessment, they claim these crops are equivalent to their natural counterparts. However, when they speak to the patent office, they insist that these crops are substantially different and need to be patented.
The truth of the matter is that they are very different, and therefore, they react differently with the environment – i.e., within the human physiology and with neighboring fields. NO ONE IS SURE IN WHAT WAY THEY ARE REACTING. NO ONE CAN PREDICT IT.
A groundbreaking paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Agricultural Sciences (14th July 2015) by Dr. V.A. Shiva Ayyadurani reveals genetic engineering (GE) of soy accumulates the class A1 carcinogenic chemical formaldehyde. This shows that GE disrupts the plant’s natural ability to control stress and disrupts plant metabolism, and invalidates the Drug Administration of USA (FDA) current regulatory framework of substantial equivalence used for approval of GMOs..
Are GMOs safe to eat?
Most developed nations do not consider GMOs to be safe. In more than 60 countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs.
GMO Foods – used for the last 20 years in the USA - have turned out to have more health hazards than anyone ever expected. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine's position paper on genetically modified (GM) foods says: “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food consumption including infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system.”
A link to the entire factsheet in PDF is here.
Thank you for supporting York Farm and locally produced food. Please contact us with any questions regarding our agricultural practices or anything discussed on this page.