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Posts Tagged ‘USDA’

In a post a few weeks back I noted that I had gardening on the brain and was determined to make it happen. I also said I would share my information in case it would be useful to some other poor reader out there. Let me preface what follows by pointing out that this is my first garden in years (years) and what I do may or may not be what is generally recommended.

First, I bought my seeds from a small distributor of heirloom varieties, Skyfire Garden Seeds. Turnaround was beyond excellent; I mailed my order and payment on a Monday and received my shipment that Friday. I also received two “thank you” packets free in my shipment and a hand-written note wishing me “a great garden this year.” I value that personalized touch. Even better, Skyfire beat both Burpee and Gurney’s prices on every variety I ordered, often by a landslide. So far, that puts Skyfire up by four-to-one (better products, customer service, turnaround, and price).

But the proof is in the pudding as they say, so with a handful of starter trays and a bag of potting soil, I got to work. (I’ll also note here that every seed packet contained more than the amount listed on the website, especially nice for those of us with a bit of black in their thumb.) On March 19th, three heirloom varieties of tomatoes were planted: Rutger, Pearson, and Long Keeper. They got a south-facing window in a garden shed and water but no special treatment (heat lamps, flourescent lights, etc.). On sunny days, I moved them outside for direct sun; nighttime temperatures stayed mostly in the 50s but dipped into the low 40s a couple times. On March 24th, Orange Sun Sweet Bell Peppers went in under the same conditions. The Pearson tomatoes sprouted earliest, on April 1st, followed quickly by the Rutgers and Long Keepers simultaneously on the 2nd. My Orange Sun Bells sprouted yesterday.

Together, the varieties have averaged a 95%+ germination rate, even with my unskilled plantings and less-than-ideal conditions. (And, in case they didn’t sprout, Skyfire offers a replace-or-refund guarantee.) March 19th also saw the open sowing of a cabbage variety called Glory of Enkuizen. They came up beautifully and thick as fleas; a few more nice days and they’ll be ready for transplanting. It’s a couple weeks until I’ll plant the rest of the seeds ordered but so far I am immensely pleased with the results and have nothing but praise for Skyfire Garden Seeds.

My garden growings also include yellow onions, purchased locally in sets and planted March 19th, and potatoes eyed from grocery store spuds. The onions are 6 to 8 inches tall; the few potato sprouts (about 4 in all so far) up are 1 to 2 inches.

I’ll keep posting from time to time and make notes, if only for myself. 🙂 For further consideration, I offer up the abundant resources of Dave’s Garden, which is very friendly and helpful in all things sproutable. In signing off, I’d like to say that gardening is not much of a chore, and the proceeds greatly exceed the effort. Plus, it’s a nice way to stay a bit active, promote independence, and stick it to the man. How could anyone resist?

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My local grocery store offers only “organic” produce.  Nice, right?  Yeah, except that they charge three times more for anything with that little label that says “organic.”  And guess what, an organic label by no means ensures the item is truly organically farmed.  With all the loopholes we expect of traditional tax law and political affairs, “organic” is a loose term indeed. 

First off, the grocery store is not legally bound to investigate whether or not an item they receive for sale is labeled in accordance with federal law.  (No retail establishments are.  Including restaurants.)  I understand it could be an expensive and time-consuming effort but doing nothing seems almost … negligent.  I would think one random test sample each month, or even quarterly, of the major suppliers’ produce would not be too taxing and may even qualify for some kind of government grant. 

But no, the responsibility falls to the supplier.  Of course the supplier and also the store (or eatery) are never supposed to “knowingly” alter labeling or re-label items or otherwise mislead consumers, but that’s also a rather gray legal area.  It’s quite easy for a bin of regular bell peppers to “spill over” into the organic bin at the store, or for a crate to be mis-labeled in shipping, or even for an entire shipment to go awry without anyone noticing.  Retail work can be chaotic even when honestly attempting to maintain accuracy; with a plethora of opportunity, a bit of “see no evil, speak no evil” could do wonders for a bottom line.  In addition, small suppliers do not have to conform to federal standards and can presumably label their products as they please since they are not regulated.  Larger suppliers – and the middle men – rely on the claims of the original producer.  (See “Washing of the Hands,” Article 62, Passages 11 – 16, of the Criminally Legal Handbook.)  

So we’re all the way back to the farmer now, and trusting his operation to participate fully and accurately maintain all the federal precedents of organic production.  I’m sure a lot of farmers do their very best to accomplish just that.  And I’m sure many don’t.  Even for those attempting “honest” organics, an entire year crop can be affected by one non-organic treatment to adjacent land, or the impossible-to-prevent cross-pollination with non-certified produce (like those genetically modified).  The results of these interactions would, by law, revoke a producer’s ability to label any crop “organic” … except that the USDA has stated that it will exclude such results from the labeling regulations. 

Huh?  There’s a nice breeze and the field upwind gets cropdusted but my field is still “organic” because I didn’t pay for it?  Their mutant potatoes won’t cross-pollinate with mine because you say they shouldn’t?  Way to go, Washington.  You’re absolutely right; regulatory paperwork in a filing cabinet in an airtight office a thousand miles away is 100% effective at blocking those particles from tainting my crop.  Excellent work. 

Moreover, imported produce (which constitues an interestingly large percentage of what we consume) is expected to be correctly labeled before it crosses the border and does not need to be tested prior to hitting the retail market stateside.  That said, imports from European countries worry me a great deal less than say, Columbia.  Not that I have anything against Columbia, but it occurs to me they might be more interested in our business (and their profit) than whether or not what they produce meets our organic standards.

Also, as consumers, we often associate “organic” with “natural” when, legally, nothing could be further from the truth; it may occur naturally but just as likely may not.  Perfectly acceptable “organic” compounds in direct contact with unharvested produce and/or feedstock animals include hydrogen peroxide, copper and ferrous sulfates, ammonium, sodium hypochlorite, calcium polysulfide, and – my personal favorite – “liquid fish products.”  (Whatever that means.)  Some of those are totally, completely, 100% synthetic. 

Because, of course, “organic” doesn’t mean “naturally-occuring organic.”  In fact, by their very definition, some of these compounds exist only as products of human experimentation, so wholly unnatural that nothing remotely comparable to them exists outside the laboratory.  Which makes them unique.  So they remain USDA certified 100% organic.  In one of my favorite quirks of the laws and acts laying these regulations out, hops (the kind they put in beer) are entirely exempt regardless of how they are modified, treated, handled, or marketed. 

Why?  Because hops are like grapes:  their tastes differ based on treatment and location.  This attribute makes them too unique to synthesize and vulnerable to a potential change in taste under different treatment (i.e. “organic” treatment).  According to the USDA, that is enough to exempt them from regulation.  (Grapes, however, are not exempt, though the regulations are somewhat more lenient than for other produce.  Apparently the bouquet of wine is not as delicate as that of beer.  That and … I don’t recall an Anheuser-Busch-sized lobby on behalf of the wine industry.)

So perhaps Columbia could hardly do worse than we do to ourselves already.  After all, a box of any food product can be labeled “organic” – in bold, with neon flashing lights if the producer so desires – if even 70% of the contents conform to USDA standards.  Meaning the other 30% could be … anything.

And my point to all this, oh gentle patient reader, is simply … why bother?  If what the USDA regards as “organic” in no way matches the consumers’ understanding, why even introduce it into the mix?  And with all the fine print involved (which I didn’t even scratch in the writing of this), wouldn’t it be easier to label the non-organically farmed products instead?  And of course, there are no answers, only more questions.  But It seems like just one more confusing tactic to mislead the public.  One more governmental half-truth.  Well here’s a personal opinion, my bloated greedy hopelessly corrupt representatives of Washington…  

Leave my goddamn carrots alone.

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