Experience 02: Visiting a Local and Organic Farm

The farm-to-table movement, which started as means of aesthetic undertaking, quickly grew to an agent of social activism. It’s a term coined to describe the collecting, storing, processing, packaging, sales, and consumption—a review, quite literally, of the journey of food. Human health and wellness, as well as sickness and disease, is largely correlated to the quality and source of the foods that we eat. Therefore, it would make sense to observe each and every step in the process of food production.

My study begins on a sunny day in early May on a visit to Z-Food Farm, a certified organic plot of land and storefront started up by David Zaback (also known as Farmer David). “With a double major in Anthropology and Environmental studies,” David believes that “organic farming was [his] most logical career choice” (Z-Story). He realized, as I have, that food is an integral aspect of worldly culture and the potential implications of conventional, industrial agriculture and modern food consumption on environment (to that I add, the health of humans) are severe. Through volunteering on a small organic farm, and creating connections with other organic establishments, David realized his niche and realized that he wanted to own and manage his own farm. Through hard work, lots of passion, and taking chances with opportunities presented to him, he has converted an 11-acre plot of land in Lawrenceville, New Jersey into a mini agro-ecosystem. Fresh vegetables, fruits, grasses, and herbs grow in abundance here, just as Z-Food Farms has likewise been growing in critical acclaim. David and his family’s farm have been featured in publications such as The Huffington Post, Philly Times, Fox News, and more.
David supplemented me with some crop-growing knowledge, farmer to future food scientist. This will be helpful to me as I begin a journey that is entwined with agricultural studies. After all, knowing and having an understanding of the mediums with which you work with enables you to create a better product.So, how did David and I cross paths? Though our friend, Gabrielle Carbone of the Bent Spoon. He supplies Gabby with produce for some of her more exotic flavors, like kale for her kale streak[ed with chocolate], pumpkins and squashes for her roasted pumpkin, and herb-based sorbets. This is the kind of model that I’d like to follow for the invention of my own flavors for my dessert products. The straight- from-the-source sustainability isn’t the only element that inspires me here: it’s also the ingenuity in taking a traditionally savory ingredient and remastering it to create an overall more exciting sensory experience.

David supplemented me with some crop-growing knowledge, farmer to future food scientist. This will be helpful to me as I begin a journey that is entwined with agricultural studies. After all, knowing and having an understanding of the mediums with which you work with enables you to create a better product.

The first stop on our tour of the farm was to the Greenhouse. It was here that I got to see just a handful of some of the crops (currently sprouts) that he will be growing this year. In the greenhouse, climatic conditions (temperature and light) are regulated to ensure that plants can develop on schedule. Then, David moves some of his plants to an intermediary location before moving them directly out to the fields where they can mature into recognizable crops. This process is called transplanting—it is a beneficial process that extends the growing season of plants, protects them from disease until they are sufficiently established, and avoids any germinating problems with seeds.

The next stop was out to the fields. I didn’t see acres upon acres of flourishing crops and green like I’d expect at first. The cruciferous vegetables that he introduced me to in the beginning were covered with something David calls plastic mulch, ground cover that suppresses weeds and conserves water and temperature.

He says that it’s a long contested debate over whether or not organic farmers should use this plastic mulch, because there are concerns over them accumulating in soil and causing reduction in crop yield and causing environmental strain. An alternative to plastic crop covering uses biodegradable polymers, which are naturally broken down by the living microbes in the soil (to be discussed later). They provide all of the same benefits as plastic mulch, without the problem of synthetic materials accumulating in the soil (Müller 2006).The next stop was out to the fields. I didn’t see acres upon acres of flourishing crops and green like I’d expect at first. The cruciferous vegetables that he introduced me to in the beginning were covered with something David calls plastic mulch, ground cover that suppresses weeds and conserves water and temperature.The first stop on our tour of the farm was to the Greenhouse. It was here that I got to see just a handful of some of the crops (currently sprouts) that he will be growing this year. In the greenhouse, climatic conditions (temperature and light) are regulated to ensure that plants can develop on schedule. Then, David moves some of his plants to an intermediary location before moving them directly out to the fields where they can mature into recognizable crops. This process is called transplanting—it is a beneficial process that extends the growing season of plants, protects them from disease until they are sufficiently established, and avoids any germinating problems with seeds.

In this light, I asked Farmer David about the legitimate differences between fertilizer and pesticide use on conventional versus organic farms, something I have discussed and researched on my blog website. He told me what I already knew: an organic farm’s number one priority is to hold environmentally-responsible stewardship. This means they’ll take extra care to use farming practices that do not negatively impact our environment.

And aside from quizzing me on different botanical families—like, what crops make up the Solanaceae and Apiaceae families, Farmer David also highlighted on the importance of certain cover crops. Cover crops circulate nutrients throughout the soil, suppress weeds, and help to control pests and disease. The current cover crop found in David’s fields is rye, and it is special in that it’s roots form an essential, symbiotic relationship with fungus. This symbiosis is called mycorrhiza(e). These mycorrhiza relationships are the host for nitrogen-fixing bacteria. These bacteria convert nitrogen in the atmosphere into a form that is readily useable for plants. Legumes, too, have a similar function in that they also have structures called root nodules that host these nitrogen-fixers. Both of these key crops play an integral role in crop rotation.

Crop rotation is unique to organic farms, and is a method that leads to dramatic increases in the fertility of the soil and helps to optimize nutrient and water use. Conventional farming practices do not include cover crops or rotational systems, which leads to the degradation of soil structure (Baldwin 2006).

On our way out we got to munch on some of nature’s delights: fresh kale flowers, mature kale, lemon thyme, mint, sage, and asparagus spears. The taste was remarkably different from what you’d find at a grocery store. It tasted crisper and sweeter, and it was really cool to know the farmer who put in the hard work to deliver it to me.

Works Cited

Baldwin, K. R. (2006, June). Crop Rotations on Organic Farms. Retrieved May 10, 2016, from

http://www.cefs.ncsu.edu/resources/organicproductionguide/croprotationsfinaljan09.pdf

 

Müller, R. J. (2006). Biological degradation of synthetic polyesters—enzymes as potential catalysts for polyester recycling. Process Biochemistry, 41(10), 2124-2128.

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