Out On The Farm

At a glance, Biver Farms looks much like a thousand other small farms across the Midwest. But the rows of leafy tomatoes are camouflaged by a riot of tall weeds that spring up in the absence of chemical pesticides. Squash matures under a white cloth row cover that keeps out pests, even the tiniest beetles. Large, fuzzy bees meander among the crops and flowers. And underground, worms thrive in organic soil enriched with chicken poop.

NPF fellows tramped through the mud on this organic farm in southern Illinois, noshing on Sun Gold tomatoes and sampling husk-cherries at the invitation of Biver Farm manager Jennifer Moran. She described the drip-irrigation system that pulls water straight from a pond on the property, and touched on other details of organic farming.

Craig Bussmann, who grows organic corn, soybeans and other crops on a 232-acre farm nearby, joined Moran for questions. They said the organic certification process requires extra work, annual inspections and audits. The tradeoff is that organic certification commands a premium for their products in the marketplace. Bussmann said his soybeans have sold in some years for nearly three times the price of conventional soybeans. A conventional dairy farmer gets $15 for a hundred pounds of milk while organic farmers fetch $36, according to Melissa Hughes of Organic Valley.

Eight in 10 households with children are buying organic products. Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of OTA, said the federal USDA-certified organic label approved 15 years ago has propelled organic sales. “That federal seal has become one of the top recognized seals by consumers,” she said.