Thankfully, the agricultural industry is responding to consumers who prefer not to have nerve gas on their food, and acreage under certified organic production is increasing each year. The organic tools needed to control the plethora of insect pests, fungi and weeds are either being created or, in many cases, rediscovered. We use a tractor mounted version of the Stone Age hoe to keep the weeds at bay in our tree rows. From the modern laboratory comes an organic pesticide which is fermented from a rare species of soil bacteria first found on a Caribbean island, and a virus which is specific to codling moth. We also encourage swallows to nest near our orchard, as they are great bug eaters, and if we find a bull snake we relocate it to the orchard to help with rodents.
But organic certification is just a starting point – it doesn’t mean a farm or product is a seamless part of the natural landscape. Organic or not, most of us who farm use a lot of fossil fuels in our machinery, packaging and to transport product.
Ethanol can replace just about all the fuel we currently use. Our experiments with waste apples and apple pomace fermentation and distillation have been positive, and within a year we hope to operate the farm and transport our product without the use of petroleum.
Packaging is a challenge. On the bottom of our containers you will see the recycling symbol with the number 2 inside – this identifies the container as being made from HDPE. The Washington Toxics Coalition (www.watoxics.org) considers HDPE a “choose”, or safe, option for plastic packaging, and HDPE is highly recyclable. We need to freeze our product, so our containers must expand and contract, which HDPE does. It is still a petrochemical, and recycling isn’t a convenient option for some people.
And we use a lot of electricity in our cider shed – mostly for refrigeration. Even though our valley relies on hydropower from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), one third of the revenues collected by the BPA are allocated to restore fish and wildlife that were lost in the effort to dam the Columbia River. That tells you that something is not quite right with this form of “renewable” power (it also tells you that the BPA is trying to get it right). We are installing solar panels to offset the power we pull from the grid for processing, and within a few years all the electricity we use will be produced on the farm, not on the river.
Please let us know if you have a creative idea for recycling our juice jugs into something useful, alternative packaging, a better way to ferment apple pomace or anything else that could help us get our farm and product “beyond organic”.