Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Dear Worried Customer

This is an open letter to all those customers who come to the market because they have been scared away from the grocery store, the ones who are afraid of anything and everything that isn’t REAL food. (whatever that is)  I’d like to address those folks who never actually talked to a farmer, those who have absolutely no frame of reference when talking of agricultural technology and they find the unknown and unfamiliar terms incredibly concerning. Those customers whose minds are filled with the rants of all the activists who speak against various foods and the conspiratorial whispers regarding certain production methods.  The ones with the furrowed brows and the worried look in their eyes as they ask questions with no comprehension of the answer. But, in particular the ones who back off like frightened rabbits, mentally crossing themselves or calling on a higher power for protection when their perceptions are challenged.  This is for the folks who think that organic, sustainable, local foods are some mystical, magical talisman that may well grant them everlasting healthful life.

…’cause…well…that’s just not the case.

Dear Overly-Concerned Customer,

I am so sorry you’re so frightened, so very worried about every little aspect of your diet that you have drastically limited your intake of just about every nutritive substance.  And, now, because you saw it somewhere on the internet, you’re worried about the further possible contamination of the few things that you did feel comfortable eating and feeding to your children.

It must be awful to live with constant fear and anxiety about things over which you feel you have no control, and be convinced that some mysterious entity is out there somewhere was trying to annihilate you and the rest of your fellow humans…not to mention destroying the environment while killing your pets.

But, can we talk?


Just for a minute.

Stop with all your preconceived notions and wait for the response to your question, listen to it and THINK about the answer.  If you would take just a moment and truly consider some of the rhetoric that you so willingly spout with no factual support, you might just change your mind. Or, at the very least, ease it just a little.

When you ask me if I am organic and I say “no”, you draw back in shock. You want me to say yes.  It would be SO much better if I did. (believe me, I know it would be easier) Please don’t try to convince me that I should be. You don’t ask, so I can only assume you don’t want to know the reason we are not.  Often, the whole “O” question is followed by some comment on pesticide usage. And, oh, “do you spray?” Then the dreaded subject of GMOs comes up. The conversation spirals out of control and you walk away more dazed and confused than before. While the lost sale really doesn’t bother me, your lack of understanding does.

Because NONE of those things will hurt you. Yes, I did say none. Except your lack of understanding.  That could kill you. Seriously.

I honestly don’t know how to reach you to tell you that you're worrying needlessly. I don’t know exactly what to say to relieve your fears…but, really…you should know…

ORGANIC is simply a production method…and of late has become a major marketing tool. In order to use the word, you must be certified by the USDA (if your earnings exceed $5,000).

Organic food does not provide specialized nutrition.  Organic food is not produced without chemicals or even necessarily pesticides.  While the compounds allowed may be different, you will find a great deal of similarity between conventional and organic food production.

Most importantly, Organic does NOT mean non-toxic or the Garden of Eden.
former secretary of AG
source photo

And, for the record, CHEMICALS make up everything.  Even your body. They are simply building blocks. There are no "good" chemicals or "bad" chemicals. They are just substances with different qualities and characteristics that can be combined in countless ways. (and often this happens in nature, without human intervention)

Most of the things we use here on the hill are indeed allowed in organic production.  A few are not. Our criteria is that whatever we use needs to be safe, effective and economical. More often than not, organic inputs do not meet all of our criteria. In some cases, organic certification restrictions would severely limit our animal husbandry options and we only want the best for our animals. In other cases, the organic solution requires many more applications, at a higher cost and a dramatic increase for a potentially negative impact on the environment.

Any pesticide marketed in the US has to have been approved by the USDA and is also regulated by the EPA.  And, while no one would ever suggest that you drink these formulas, consumer safety is first and foremost in production and recommended application. Remember, many of the compounds become inert shortly after application. The action that they have on pests cannot be replicated in the human population as our physiology is completely different.  Any responsible producer follows the guidelines that allow for a specific withdrawal time and thus limits the amount of residue of public exposure.  And, we’re talking minuscule amounts to begin with.  The use of the word “dousing” when it comes to pesticide usage is just wrong in so many ways.

That’s when the question of SPRAYING comes in.  Do you realize that spraying is simply an application method?  I can spray water or something noxious.  It is not the act of spraying that is concerning, although what is coming out of the nozzle could be. But, then again…if you have any basic knowledge of the compounds and their usage, you wouldn’t be so afraid.

Keep in mind that if pests were not limited in any way, there would be no consistent supply of food…for any of us. Not only do pests eat our food, they can also procreate and defecate in it/on it and can cause serious illness.

And, as for GMOs, I can almost guarantee that the vast majority of what you have heard and/or read is wrong.  There are numerous flawed studies, much faulty analysis and more than a few just plain out and out lies floating around internet-land. I won’t even address all the inane, viral memes.

You would be wise to stop reading only alternatively-minded sites, be they food, agriculture or health, and research the fact-based scientific data that is out there. A balanced “reading diet” would be advised.  Feelings and opinions should not be the basis for critical thinking, particularly when it comes to your food choices. There are those who benefit greatly from your fears and misinformation. It is in your own best interest to gather facts from an unbiased source.

Quite honestly, GM technology has not affected as many food crops as you seem to think.  They just aren’t that readily available.   And, if more were available…honestly, I might just consider their use. (but, we can talk about that some other time) When you want to quote statistics about usage, you fail to understand that the facts and figures refer mostly to processed food. (and that’s a completely different topic) The modifications do NOT do what you seem to think they do. And, for the record, GM crops are NOT injected with chemicals and they do NOT cause things to blow up….and NO one is putting “fish genes” in your tomatoes and strawberries.

I am really sorry you’re so frightened.  I hate being scared and anxious and do everything I possibly can to reduce those emotions in my life. I’d really like to help you. I could direct you to a lot of information out there in cyberland that would grant you great peace of mind.

But, you don’t seem to want me to ease your fears.

Instead, you talk faster and louder and try to convince me that I am wrong and that all our food has been tampered with and it’s only sustainable to be organic, meaning of course NO dangerous chemicals, pesticides or technology…and a huge percentage of the food produced in this country is unfit for human consumption.

You don’t want me to question your information, although you seem to doubt my knowledge. That seems a little one-sided, particularly since we’ve spent years garnering knowledge about our chosen field. We don’t raise food because we have no other options.  Our production methods are the result of much deliberation and hard-earned insight.  They are not the result of hasty choices made in ignorance. But, when I offer you reassurances, you brush them aside, choosing instead to focus on crops we don’t grow and concerns about the food supply in general. Honestly, I could give you sources to counter all the rhetoric you’ve memorized. My long tenure as a grower and my personal experiences alone should count for something. But, I really don’t want to argue.  I would actually like to help you find peace of mind.

Don’t assume that when the answer to your question isn’t what you expected that the answer is wrong.  There is always the possibility that you have not considered all the options…that you do not have all the facts…and maybe, just maybe, you are the one who is wrong.

In the end, we all have to eat to survive. You’re going to have to overcome your fears and prejudices before you completely eliminate your food options. You can either open your eyes and mind to new things and search for true understanding of them, or have a very empty stomach.

Honestly, you would do yourself a favor to just eat your veggies and stop worrying. The added stress and anxiety you are constantly exposing yourself to will prove to be more detrimental than any production method or potential exposure to pesticides.

We work hard to make wise decisions in the growing of food, both for sale and our own consumption. (as do other farmers) We would like you to be comfortable with the knowledge and level of concern that goes into each and every product we sell.  Our commitment to our health and well-being (and yours) cannot be summed up in one buzzword, certification or some catchy marketing phrase.

While I will probably never convince you that your fears are unfounded, I would hope that you could gain some peace of mind from our conversation.   You seem to trust labels and vague definitions, but struggle to have confidence in the very people who actually know how to grow the food you put on your plate.

I can assure you that the food we offer for sale is the freshest, finest that we can possibly produce with the knowledge and resources we possess. We are confident in the safety of our products and consume them daily. Our family has always enjoyed good health, due in no small part to the food we grow.  Now, as we welcome the third generation, we know that they will enjoy the bounties and benefits of our efforts as well.

As we part ways, I can only hope that you will find peace, insight, truth…


                                                     Eat'll feel better!

Wishing you the best,


  1. Well said Barbara, and absolutely true. If farmers and market gardeners didn't do something about pests they would go out of business. Of course there are dangerous chemicals, but the sensible and well informed farmer (which is almost all farmers) knows what he/she is doing. Trust them.

    1. You're so right, Pat! Folk really need to learn to trust.

  2. Nodding my head in total agreement. Thanks for this!!

  3. Well said Barbara! I'm noticing that those within agriculture circles across the US are linking and sharing this post - well written and so true. Glad to be in the Valley with you! :)

  4. yup. Can't add anything more than that!

  5. Food security is impacted by new cultivars all the time in positive ways and pest control means more product makes it to grocery store shelves. To mandate single production scenarios is to mandate people to be hungry.

  6. Hello friend Barbara,
    Oh how I wish I could come every Saturday to buy the delectable veggies that I have been watching grow on your blog! And the lamb and chicken, too. I'd trust you and the Boss completely as growers of my food.
    :) m & jb

    1. I wish you could come every Saturday, too! Or even once in a while.
      Thanks for your trust!

  7. if this doesn´t calm fears, then it wasn´t read with an open mind.

  8. Al I can say is thank you, thank you thank you. I am a supermarket dietitian and work with local farmers and also shop farmers markets occasionally. ..I hear and see these fearful consumers constantly and it is so sad and frustrating.

    1. I would truly like to alleviate some of the fear that seems so rampant. I guess I can always hope.

  9. Such a patronizing post. Your assumption that anyone who questions conventional agriculture is naive and wrong-headed is...naive and wrong-headed. "There are no good or bad chemicals". Really? I worked on a conventional farm, for some years when I was a teenager. We mixed, and sprayed, lots of bad chemicals. Because they saved labor, and cut costs. Maybe they were carcinogenic, maybe they were not so good for the people who bought and ate our produce. But that was secondary. Now glyphosate has replaced dieldrin, but the same considerations that place cost over health remain. Someday glyphosate will be banned, and conventional farmers like yourself will be tut-tuting the critics of the next batch of chemical shortcuts. Food should be good, and healthy, for the land and for the consumer. Organic methods, albeit not fool-proof, are the surest way of achieving those goals. Go ahead and take your chemical shortcuts. But stop belittling those who raise questions abou them or reject them. They may know more than you do...

    1. I don't think Barbara's post was patronizing. Her main point is that she lives her life researching, reading, and practicing farming. She gets in a conversation with someone whose livelihood is something else, but they've read about it, and they don't even want to hear her side.

      What makes organic pesticides and herbicides safe? What are those chemicals? The point Barbara was making about chemicals is that everything is technically a chemical. Water is a chemical. People often use the word chemical in a derogatory manner - like the word itself means something is a poison. But that isn't scientifically accurate.

  10. People will dismiss my comments as "you're from a farming family and want to protect your profits, so you will say anything." But, they trust corporations (like Chipotle) with what they market (er, I mean say) as scripture. It's baffling.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment! You're absolutely right about the sad state of affairs. I just wish I knew what to do about it.