Wood Prairie Farm: All that’s wrong with the organic movement

Wood Prairie Farm: All that’s wrong with the organic movement

I recently came across a project on Indiegogo that wanted to help a family organic farm in Maine build a repair shed for the farm equipment. Now this sounds like a worthwhile cause. Is it?

Here is the video. Watch it and see if anything sounds off to you. I will explain the problems I have with it.  Yes, I am going after a small family farm.

The Gerritsens, Megan and Jim, who own the farm seem like nice people even though they look like they stepped out of the late 1800s.  Actually Jim Gerritsen gives me creeps. Those eyes. He look like he could be a serial killer who uses his victims as fertilizer on his farm. Jim heads the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA), so it’s not like I’m criticizing some anonymous family farmers.

OSGATA has a continuing lawsuit against Monsanto regarding the possible contamination of organic crops by Monsanto’s gmo.

I came across a Gerritsenspeech re-posted on a blog called the deliberateagrarian.   He writes, “In the early 1800s the first white settlers to Aroostook County started carving fields out of the forest and immediately began planting potatoes.” Well there ya go. I was right about the 1800s. Apparently they have channeled those dead farmers. And they don’t look too happy in that video.

The first white settlers? Uh-oh.

He continues: “Going back may generations everyone in Aroostook has worked in the fields picking potatoes. Many former farmers and non-farmers schedule vacation time so they can help family harvest their potato crop. 

What century is this? People schedule their vacation time so they can do back-breaking labor? What part of vacation do these folks not understand?

We are one of the last areas in the United States where schools are still closed for Harvest Break so that kids can help farmers get their crop in.”

Yikes. Schools close so the kids can spend time working in the fields? Look at the video. He has his kids walking behind the wagon handpicking potatoes? They have machines that do that. And look at the size of those potatoes. They’re teeny. They’re 1800s potatoes. And this is an endangered tradition? Yeah, child labor is an endangered tradition for good reason.

The idea of progress is to lessen the need for manual labor, to make otherwise hard work easier. Hey, buy a used potato harvester.

In our potato culture there is universal belief that hard work and thrift are best learned at an early age by working in a potato field. This is an endangered tradition as increased potato mechanization reduces opportunities for both hand work and younger workers.”

I don’t know where to go with this one. We’re wading close to sect territory here.  I agree that kids should learn about work, but that phrase, hard work and thrift are best learned at an early age by working in a potato field, has such an 1800s syntax to it. “Leave me be, Jebadiah!” Thrift? Who uses the word thrift anymore? An early age? How early? You can’t teach the same values by having kids do household chores? I am beginning to think this guy is a real oddball.

The tradition of young workers doing handwork. “Hard work and thrift are best learned at an early age by working in a potato  field coal mine.”

Historically, it is worth noting that subsequent to the Populist Movement of the late 1800s, the American farm economist Carl Wilkin in the 1930s concluded through his work developing the economic model known as Farm Parity that restrictions upon the size of large farms was necessary in order to ensure proper functioning of the economy, economic justice for farmers and broad benefits to the whole of society.

We’re back in the 1800s again.

Since its inception, the organic community has been a safe harbor for the American family farmer. However, corporate entry into organic production and marketing is now occurring at a rapid rate and its influence is being felt nationwide. 

Ah, now it all becomes clearer. Organic is good, but only if done by small farmers. Large scale organic is bad. What guys like Gerritsen imagine is millions of tiny little family farms using way more land than larger conventional ones. The fact is, since organic needs more acreage to get the same yields as conventional, it is actually less environmentally friendly.

Since Jim is stuck in the late 1800s. Let look at the demographics. In 1890 there were 62,979,766 people in the U.S. In 2011 there were 313,232,000. Does he really believe the small family farm is able to feed that many people? You need larger and more efficient operations to supply the demand. And then there is the need for exports.

Agricultural exports are an important cog in the economy’s health.  The U.S. is a net exporter. That’s a good thing. Does Jim believe that the family farm is up to exporting $155 billion worth of food?

As noble as their farm may be, Jim is delusional. My hope is he is an anomaly in the organic movement.  I have this sneaking suspicion he isn’t

But I digress. Back to the video at hand.

I think the whole repair shed project is a is a big scam. There are so many red flags in that video, the major one being that some of the money will go to his group’s patent suit against Monsanto. While I whole heartedly agree with the fight against Monsanto, I have a problem with using weasly, dishonest tactics to raise funds.

Before I savage them more, let me tell you a bit about my background. I grew up a hick. My dad owned a grocery store in a small town in Pa. My uncles were steelworkers and farmers. My cousin owned a farm for a while where I spent countless hours as a teen baling hay, shoveling shit to take to the mushroom farm.

My area had a lot of farms. Dad bought a lot of his perishables locally. Corn from Whitaker’s, eggs from Steigerwalt’s, milk from Zimmerman’s dairy and meat from local slaughterhouses. But that was the 1960s. The farmers would eventually sell their farms as they got old because the kids had no interest in following in the family footsteps and live the hard life of a farmer.

Being a farmer sucks. Its hard work. But the one thing that farmers have done throughout history was immediately adopt new farming technology that would make their lives easier. That’s what I just don’t get about this organic movement. Labor intensive, inefficient farming methods to create a product that has little if any more nutritional value isn’t safer value than conventional foods.

But I digress… again. Let’s look at what was said in the video:

First claim: They need specialized, vintage equipment to grow their organic crops. Jesus H. Christ in a chicken basket. No, they don’t. More modern equipment will work just as well.

I contacted my brother who is a full on Oliver tractor freak. I told him the model and in the video and he said it was easy to get used tractors from that time in good shape for maybe around $10k or less.

Second: They say their vintage equipment is in constant need of repairs and they need an indoor space so their kids can make repairs in the harsh winters and inclement weather. Huh? Do they keep their equipment outdoors all year? Just judging by the video it appears they have no indoor space for any of their equipment, especially tractors.

If they leave their tractors outside all year, exposed to the elements,  no wonder they keep needing repairs. Growing up my uncle kept his tractors in a garage, with no door but shielded from the elements.

Yeah, that’s me with my uncle. Look to the left and see the tractor wheels. No door, but inside.  For those who care that’s an Oliver 77, circa late 40s I believe.

Third: $30 grand for an indoor space to repair the tractors? Heated floors? I Googled for prefab quonset huts and found this:

The above is 36′ wide x 12′ high x 60′ long. Gerritsen says he wants the building to be 70″ long and 30′ wide with two doors on front and back, so they can work on two machines at a time.  That’s rich. You can’t take two machines in the same door? What’s the cost of this pre-fab configuration?  $9,979.00.  Gerritson says that it will take $32k to buy the materials to build the indoor space?

And he wants radiant floor heat using antifreeze? Not very organic if you ask me.

I didn’t look up the prices for indoor or outdoor wood boilers, so I can’t speak to that cost. But here’s a question. What kind of farming are they doing in the dead of winter in Maine that their tractors need repair?

The biggest red flag come to me in the middle of the video when he says that he is the head of the Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association (OSGATA). They are involved in an ongoing court case against Monsanto. Is it something Monsanto did to them? Nope. It’s what they might do.

I’m hate Monsanto as much as the next guy, but I think Gerritsen is inflating the costs of the repair shop in order to fund his organization’s fight against Monsanto. Wanting to raise funds to help in a court case against Monsanto is fine, but I think the way he is doing it is a big con. He’s using the small family farm idea to rope in the marks.

I showed above that with just a cursory search of how much it would cost to build his repair shop. I also showed that if he garaged his tractors out of the elements they wouldn’t need so many repairs. Either way, with a just a cursory search I got a new used tractor and a building for around $15 grand, half of what Gerritsen said it would take for just the repair shop.

The Gerritsen are the poster family for the organic movement. These are the faces the industry wants to consumers to imagine when they think organic. It’s actually pretty clever, but somewhat disingenuous

8 thoughts on “Wood Prairie Farm: All that’s wrong with the organic movement

  1. You’ve written some cogent critiques of the “organics” movement in the past, but I’m afraid with this piece you’ve crossed the line from criticism to personal attack.

    1. Thanks for your feedback. I thought long and hard before I posted this. It’s been on the back burner for a few months. I finally made the decision because Gerritson is not some anonymous guy, but a public activist for the organic movement. He makes public speeches and is quoted in the press. He is the lead plaintiff in a high profile lawsuit. Last December he lead a protest in support of Occupy Wall Street in NYC where he spoke. I think all that makes him a public figure and fair game.

      Finally, this post wouldn’t have been written if he just wanted to build that repair shop. It was the tie-in that some of the funds were to be earmarked for the lawsuit. In my mind, that was the main reason for the Indiegogo campaign. I think the repair shop was a red herring. (not to say he doesn’t need one.)

      Thanks for reading,

      Bernie

  2. This article is plagued by factual inaccuracies, misspellings and demonstrates a complete lack of proper research or understanding of farming and living in northern Maine. Congratulations for contributing to the ignorance of society.

    1. Hey, it’s hard to proofread your own work. Anyway, if there are any factual inaccuracies in my post, please feel free to point them out. If I am wrong, I need to know that. Simply saying I have a lack of understanding doesn’t help me or the readers.

  3. I would be interested in why you are anti monsanto. I asume you know that Monsanto has NEVER sued anyone for accidental contamination AND will come and remove any contamination for free. The lawsuit against them what thrown out mostly because of that, they just don’t do the bad things people asume they will.

  4. You say: “Yikes. Schools close so the kids can spend time working in the fields?”

    Yes they have closed for 100 years so the kids can help, that is how we as kids earned the money for clothes.

    “Look at the video. He has his kids walking behind the wagon handpicking potatoes?”

    No, they are picking rocks. I used to have to go out and do that by myself, the family doing it looks much better.

    “And look at the size of those potatoes. They’re teeny.”

    Seed potatoes as shown being planted are much smaller than eating potatoes.

    If they do not spray the seed potatoes, and the workers harvesting them, they cannot be used for seed. The crops from farms that do not spray for fungus and other hazards will never amount to anything.

    I totally agree that he is spending too much for the shed, he does not need the shed heated all winter.

    I also agree that his lawsuit is stupid. He has no grounds and I would agree that it should be thrown out.

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