"A lot of what pulls people in that direction to organically grown or locally grown food on a more personal basis is, the driving force behind that I think is spiritual. It's a way for people to reconnect with the land. A personal way to reconnect with creation is always an important part of our tradition
"Anytime you inject synthetics into it you start short circuiting or disrupting all those natural cycles and systems and balances that go on in soil and in the microenvironment in which we grow crops. And when you do that then there's more room for other things to go wrong. The self-set, self-developed The system of self-developed set of checks and balances starts to go away, and we start trying to fill those in with a new insecticide or a different herbicide or a combination of herbicides where you look at managing balance and that in the organic system.
"So, the approach is really fundamentally different. You know, we have the mindset that we're smart enough to figure out exactly what we need. If you look at our history in agriculture, we make those assumptions as we develop we've continued to get ourselves in trouble through the generations. As we continue to innovate and try to be more clever with what we do, we end up doing more things we never intended than we did that really helped remedy the situation we tried to address. And I don't see that getting any better.
"And it gets more costly. And it imposes more risks on the environment and imposes more risks on our neighbors and other citizens within the community. Look at the cancer rates in production areas that are tied directly to certain chemical use regimens and that kind of thing. And those are getting broader based and harder to measure all the time. And we always look at them as single factors but there's synergy every time you introduce a second one, or a third one, or a forth one, you get then multiple sets of additional issues that need to be investigated. And we don't do that
"You've got to let the natural checks and balances between insects, pests, disease and the crops you want to grow and everything else that interfere with that and disrupt this process as little as possible until you So that, at least you get the production you need off it to make it work. And systems well-managed are very productive at very low cost. And they continue on. We don't have to put all this external energy back into the system."
[Question:] "OK, so then tell me about your operation today."
"Today we're Well, today in the U.S. to sell organic products you have to be certified to the national organic program standard. We have been certified to that standard, or a standard that exceeds it for the most part, for nearly 30 years We started the business here about 1980 in cleaning, grading and helping to market organically grown grains and in '87 we added other manufacturing capabilities to that. And so I spend most of my time trying to manage that operation
"We do a whole variety of products right now. We started out to do soybeans, popcorn, corn and a little wheat was our market focus."
[Question:] "For human consumption?"
"This was all for human consumption and it was cleaned and graded and sold as whole grains. And the demand for organic soybeans and wheat and a little bit for corn in Western Europe in the late 70s and the early part of the 80s gave us enough volume here that we were willing to go ahead and take the risk and start a whole new business built around cleaning because we had nothing to start with. And borrowed what we could and put the program together and just started. It's one of those things you couldn't plan. There was no market structure. There was no market information available."
"We have a number of items we specialize in, [for example] popcorn. We do popcorn and spelt and some of these other exotic grains or ancient grains and those We have them in bulk bins at the natural food stores scattered all over the country now. And so that's been We started growing popcorn in the late I think '78 was our first organic crop of popcorn. We've been growing it ever since."
[Question:] "Did I understand right in the first few years your market was primarily in Europe?"
[Question:] "How did you find out about that?"
"Well, again it's reading and communications. It's a small world, you know, the number of organic folks We were one of two facilities in the whole central United States that were accredited or certified to meet the qualifications to export to the European market in the early 80s. Our customers came to us to check us out. So we've had businesses and government agencies and regulatory bodies from all over Europe, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong come to the farm to see us. So that's been a real treat, as far as I am concerned. You know, when you have people coming from business and operations in Sweden and Denmark and the UK and they're coming from Belgium and France and Germany and Switzerland and Italy and Japan and Taiwan and Hong Kong and they came here. And part of the reason they came to the United States was to see you. You know, that's kind of nice. [Laughs.]
"Where's the future? I think the future for really successful agriculture is going to be organic and in smaller scale, more hands-on, more people involved."
"Because we have not the resources. We're so energy intensive right now and, you know, we've probably hit 'peak' oil. If we're not we're going to be there very soon. Right now the demand for oil and fossil energy is greater than our ability to produce and is increasing. So, price is going to go nowhere but up. I mean, I think it's not going to be long before we look at $100 a barrel oil as a bargain. And we can't continue to farm the way we're doing. Everything we do is so totally energy independent [or rather] dependent. I mean all of our fertilizers are fossil fuel based. The energy and stuff that it takes to transport that stuff around. Our energy recovery efficiency is declining; it's not increasing. Just the simple energy equations tell me that we can't continue to do what we're doing and we can't make it energy efficient enough to do that."
"And biofuels? Our whole approach to looking at biofuels right now is dependent upon maintaining the kind of fertility that we've maintained with input of fossil fuel energy. I don't understand how that adds up. It doesn't in my little head. And so I don't see that that's a possibility. I think we really have to work at doing things in a very holistic way on a smaller scale which is much more energy efficient.
"So I think it's My other argument is, you know, we've been told, 'Get bigger or get out.' And we've been told, you know, that this is the right way to go. And the big debate on the Farm Bill right now is about subsidies. You know, my simple question is, 'If you're as efficient as you claim, you ought to be turning the subsidies down. You shouldn't need them.' And the folks in organic agriculture have developed a plan, in large part, going without them because they didn't qualify for them.
"And when you look at it across the board across the country, they're more than competitive on yields. They're more than competitive on returns. And I, you know, the demand is there. The research right now is telling us that we run, on average, 40 to 90 percent greater nutrient density in material that's organically grown. So, why wouldn't you buy one apple that tastes good as opposed to two that don't for the same amount of nutrition?"
"But all of those things continue to add up on each other. And we take such a small view of what we're doing, and we need to be a lot more holistic and a lot broader-based in our thinking and our decision-making. And those are all our responsibilities. And it's our responsibility to manage that the best we can. But it should also be our responsibility not to put those risk factors off onto our neighbors. And our whole system does that continually, not just in agriculture, we do it in everything."