One thing is quite clear from these interviews with
seven Ohio farmers, organic farming can be done, and it is being done
in different parts of the state, on farms of different sizes and by farmers
with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Furthermore, it is being done
profitably and without adverse impact on the environment.
Whether organic farming is suitable for large numbers
of farmers is less a question of technical know-how than it is a consideration
of attitudes and beliefs. The interviews have shown that it is less
a question of "How
to do it?" and more of one that asks "Why do it?" Organic
technology is no big mystery, yet it will be taken up only by those who
have the courage to step "out of the box" and explore it's
possibilities. In many ways, organic farmers are what rural sociologist
call "early adapters."
These interviews have shown a willingness on the part of organic growers
to experiment and to learn from their failures. Organic production strategies
are site-specific so that what works on one farm may not work on another.
There are no blueprints to follow, no how-to-do-it manuals to consult.
Some basic principles apply, crop rotations that include small grains
and leguminous cover crops, timely mechanical weed control, use of manures,
etc., but the organic farmer must develop his or her own system. Doing
so is not without risk, especially during the transition years. These
organic growers work outside the comfort zone provided by a simple corn
and bean rotation with chemical weed control and soluble fertilizers.
Organic farmers are risk-takers.
As a group they keep informed by reading books and magazines, by attending
farm tours and organizational meetings and by exchanging information
with other growers. They are generous with their own time and information,
which helps promote a state-wide network of like-minded farmers. This
network helps each of the organic farmers interviewed to resist pressures
from skeptics among friends, neighbors and in the state's agricultural
establishment. They are not immune to these pressures, but the courage
of their convictions keeps them going.
All admit that some undetermined part of the motivation to farm organically
is market-driven, yet each of the farmers interviewed found that there
are long-term benefits in soil health, water quality, farmer safety and
quality of life that transcend short-run economic considerations. They
each agree that they would continue to farm organically even if premium
organic prices disappeared.
That is the final test of organic farming's sustainability.