Vernon Peterson grows stone fruit on his family farm in Kingsburg, California which has been in operation for 118 years. He switched over to organic farming eight years ago, and now has an alliance of farmers who provide weekly boxes of farm-fresh fruits and vegetables to Glendora and other Southern California locations. In an effort to make organic affordable, he orchestrated an independent distribution system that allows him to sell direct to the consumer with Abundant Harvest Organics. Many people don’t trust the certification of organic, or are confused by various marketing terms, so here “Uncle Vern” explains the ins and outs of organic farming, why it tastes better, and why it is better for the environment and our health.
How far are you from the Los Angeles area?
We’re a couple hundred miles. But when we’re carrying 1200 boxes, a guy in a Prius is going to burn more fuel per box driving the mile and a half to pick up his produce, than I am driving a full sized truck down to San Diego. It kind of puts things in perspective if you’re interested in Carbon footprint.
Why do people buy organics from you when they can get it at their local market?
Certainly you can buy organic in your local store, and it’s going to be relatively fresh, but the downside is it’s probably going to be about a week old. Our produce is delivered to you within hours of harvest. And we’re the same price if not less, than conventional produce.
Is organic just the absence of pesticides and chemical fertilizers?
In stone fruit, the biggest deal for your health is the fungicides. Conventionally grown peaches are sprayed with fungicides just before packing to keep them from rotting. If it’s organic livestock, there are no hormones, there are no antibiotics, and they are not fed GMO corn. Also the animal feed has to be grown organically.
Why is eating organic healthier for the consumer?
You don’t have all the synthetic pesticides and fungicides on the fruits and vegetables, and it’s nutritionally superior because you haven’t messed with the biological activity of the soil. Synthetic fertilizer is lethal to soil microbes. I can grow a nice tree, a pretty tree with pretty fruit, but the nutritional value of that fruit isn’t there, because we’ve nuked the biological activity of the soil.
What is the difference between “free-range” and “pastured?”
Free-range is bogus—it just means they’re not in a cage. But you could have a Purdue chicken that’s got .6 of a square foot and be in a label that says “free-range.” If it’s an organic chicken, it has to at least have access to the outdoors.
Is "grass-fed” meat healthier than meat from corn fed cows and chickens?
If you look at the Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratios of grass fed anything versus grain fed anything, it’s a whole different food group. You should look for “pastured” chicken and “100% grass fed” beef. That means it was both grass-fed and grass-finished like our meat.
Does organic really mean anything? A lot of people don’t trust the certification.
Organic does have meaning. These other terms like “natural,” “free-range,” “local,” “green,” all of these terms do not have specific definitions. Did you know that antibiotics are considered “natural”? But the guy who got the organic certification jumped through a lot of hoops to be able to put that on the product.
All these labels and terminology can be confusing to consumers. What do you suggest?
Number one, you need to know your farmer. We trademarked the phrase “Who’s your farmer?” That’s why we encourage farm tours. Come on out and see how your stuff is grown. Bring your kids. That way you can feel comfortable knowing where your food is being grown, knowing the people that are growing it.