Swamp Creek Produce: Organic Farming Pros And Cons

Woody and Marsha Mason share their experience of organic farming pros and cons, and warn that success does not grow overnight.

| July/August 1975

  • Organic farming produce
    We started that season with barely enough machinery and only animal manures for fertilizers, but still managed to plant four acres of various vegetables that grew very well.

  • Organic farming produce

Many folks who leave the city for their country paradise take up the growing of organic vegetables, both as a way to feed themselves well and as a means of supporting themselves on the land. If you're making such an attempt, good luck but please don't assume that success is assured. Even know–how, experience, and well made plans don't guarantee a happy ending to your venture. We've learned this the hard way, and have written the following report to give others some insight into the joys and pitfalls of the organic produce business.

Organic Farming Pros And Cons

Marsha and I left college five years ago and set out in search of our ideal: a self sufficient, ecologically sound lifestyle based on farming. We got the money together for a couple of acres with two cabins, planted our first garden, and went to look for work. The job I found was with the area's largest grower of fresh vegetables. Although the operation's scale was overpowering and its methods distasteful to me, my employment there did at least give me an idea of how much work went into such a business.

The following season, I worked with a friend who raised 40 acres of sweet corn, string beans, and tomatoes by organic methods and who sold his produce to a newly founded natural foods processor. My buddy was burned so badly by rubber checks and unfavorable weather, however, that he gave up the business and went into dairying.

We supported ourselves that winter by driving school buses and meanwhile, the growing frustrations of working for others made us decide to start farming for ourselves the following season. Why not? We had a great location (not far from Emmaus, Pennsylvania, the home of Rodale Press and the hub of the organic gardening movement). And, even though local sales of fresh vegetables were already monopolized by established commercial growers, this drawback was offset by our access to three major eastern cities: Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, D.C. We even had some readymade contacts with potential buyers, through friends who were members of various urban food co-ops. Marsha and I set up meetings with the organizers of some of these groups, decided that the co-op did indeed offer a potential market for our vegetables, and prepared to go into the produce business.

Because our garden space was limited, our first step was to find more ground to farm. Luckily, a commune three miles away had 25 unused acres and, since the landlord preferred that the acreage be cultivated, we secured an informal agreement that we could use all the space we wanted rent free, in exchange for fertilizing and preparing the community's garden space. The tract hadn't been worked for 10 years, and — although the soil was low in fertility — it had a humus content of 3 percent and plenty of potential.

We started that season with barely enough machinery and only animal manures for fertilizers, but still managed to plant four acres of various vegetables that grew very well. Although hand hoeing and picking were nearly overwhelming for just two people, the major pitfall wasn't production but marketing. The co–ops were trying to keep all their growers happy by buying a little from each. This might have been fine in theory but, as a result of this policy, we often found ourselves driving home with a truck still half full of produce. What with the duplication of crops among producers — and a hungry raccoon family eating our corn — we didn't make much money. We did learn a lot, however, and we did have a good time.


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