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Thursday, June 3, 2004 10:08 am

Prairie notes 6-3-04

Most of us natural-farmer types were pleased when the USDA announced that it would develop a set of regulations -- the government's form of a blessing -- for organic farming. But many small, diversified producers are now backing away from certification by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It's not so much a problem with the rules as it is horror atthe obscene amount of paperwork required and the fees, which can easily top $1,000 a year for a diversified operation. Diversity is one of the key elements of a sustainable, toxin-free kind of food production -- but there's more to organics than production methods and allowable inputs.

When I ask people why they're willing to pay more for naturally grown food, they usually cite health and safety concerns, but they also express an interest in knowing the producer. They want food with a face. Recently a group drove down from Chicago just to have a look at how we do things here at Prairierth Farm. They inspected the equipment and the products we use in food production and checked us out to see whether we're for real. It made sense to me: You should get to know and trust your personal food producer, just as you get to know your doctor -- or anyone else whose work directly affects your health. It's about wanting to connect with a real person you can talk to rather than a machine on the other end of a phone line that keeps you punching buttons until you forget why you called.

Confidence and trust can't be replaced by certifications and paper trails, no matter how well intentioned. It's all about local people you can get to know who produce and process great food and expect to be paid a living wage for doing it. Now that sounds like a plan with a future!

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