And I dont blame our customers for needing a one word definition. Who has the time to listen to a 30 minute description of the four year crop rotation plan that we are implementing to improve soil quality, reduce pest and disease pressure, and increase crop vigor? I give them enough credit for taking the time to find us and consider the journey of their food from seed to plate. But how do you choose a word when as soon as you settle on it, someone will take it from you and turn it into something you find offensive?
Case in point. Last year we settled on the word sustainable. The government had not yet been able to take control of the word and turn it into a money making industry; it had links to permaculture and biodynamic principals yet was applicable on a commercial scale; and it was user friendly. People knew (sort of) what it meant.
Last week, we received a flyer from another local farm. Because they practice more conventional farming methods and sometimes can act a bit more like a distributor than a farm, some of our customers highly dislike this farm. Or maybe they are just trying to be supportive of us. But we dont consider other Jersey farms competition. We live in the most densely populated state in the country; there are plenty of mouths to feed. In fact, I would like to see 10 times more farms than there currently are. And while I may not agree with some of their practices, I am impressed with any farm that manages to stay in business over several generations.
I was about to throw the flyer away, when I noticed an advertisement for their CSA. (I should probably admit here that I am a bit protective of the CSA term and model). Anyway, I read their description: Everything certified organic and sustainable. (Second admission, as I write this I already threw out the flyer so that is not a precise quote). That caught my attention. Firstly their wording was strangely ambiguous. Was everything both organic and sustainble or was it an either or? I knew they had a certified organic field, but I did not think there was anything sustainable (as far as my definition of sustainable went) about their other fields. I gave them a call. The woman who answered the phone quickly explained that everything was either certified organic or sustainable. OK. But when I turned the cards around on her and asked her to define sustainable she couldnt. She said that the government had some definition that they followed (news to me). So I probed a little further.
ME: So none of the crops CSA members receive have had any synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or fungicides? (A pretty basic assumption if you are calling something sustainable in my mind).
HER: Well, no, we cant guarantee that. It completely depends on the year.
ME: Ok, thank you for your time.
So what was my takeaway? Well, clearly sustainable is out. For now, we have settled on calling ourselves Stewards of the Land. Maybe not as user friendly, but for now, we like it. And as always, if you have any questions and have a spare 30 minutes, come on out to the farm and we will show you exactly how we operate. With 100% guarantees.