BERKLEY, Aug 26, 2012: While growing produce without the use of synthetic pesticides and manufactured fertilizers may present its share of difficulties, organic vegetable farms have sprouted up all over southeastern Massachusetts.
Alex Houtzager of Berkley converted his small family farm into an organic vegetable farm about eight years ago, citing the health benefits and better taste of vegetables that are grown naturally.
“We were looking for an educational process for the community to know the benefits of fresh food, and to be able to understand how their food was grown,” said Houtzager, 76, who inherited Kettle Pond Farm from his family, who purchased the property in 1943. “We were looking at making people aware that there are pesticides and herbicides being used in the food, and there are alternate ways of providing that food. That was the goal.”
Houtzager said it’s hard to tell how much of a health benefit comes from eating organic food. But he said he is sure about one benefit: the quality of the food.
“The basic thing is that it tastes good,” Houtzager said. “If it tastes good, it must be better.”
According to the Bristol Community College Agriculture Program, there are more than 170 organic farms in southern Plymouth County, southern Bristol County and Rhode Island, and that number is increasing all the time.
To become certified as an organic vegetable farm by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nonsynthetic pest control methods and fertilizers must be used; weed problems must be managed naturally; and genetic modification is prohibited. Farms that want their products to be considered organic by the government must submit to an annual recertification process, in which the farm is inspected, and the farmer must keep records and give the information to a USDA-accredited certifying agent, including a detailed description of the operation, a history of substances applied to the land, a list of organic products grown and a written plan for substances to be used on the farm in the future.
Houtzager pays a $1,000 fee each year to a certifying agent from Bay State Organic Certifiers. Through the federal Farm Bill, Houtzager said, he gets an approximately $700 rebate.
The biggest difficulty when it comes to organic farming, Houtzager said, is managing the bugs that try to chomp on his crops. Some of the more problematic pests for Kettle Pond Farm include the Mexican bean beetle and the flea beetle, he said.
Kettle Pond Farm uses a clay-based spray product called Surround to battle the bugs, along with a substance called pyrethrin, which is made from chrysanthemum flowers. The farm also uses other methods, including a protective covering that is draped over a row of crops, made from a product called Reemay.