Towards late morning with the bulk of the harvest complete, everyone convenes in the wash shed. Reba fires up the tunes. Hoses are turned on and sinks filled. The carrots are washed down and stacked neatly in crates for the CSA pick-up later. Everyone handles the produce with a practiced, gentle touch. Greens are dropped into a stainless steel sink full of water. Next door, in a separate tent, bunches of kale and chard are washed, their stems trimmed even. They are piled carefully in crates and bags, some for the CSA pick-up and others for the evening delivery to two co-ops. Alex is sent out to prepare onions and Reba tends personally to the summer squash and zucchini.
Nearby Bill kneels in a large patch of basil. He’s picking the best crowns to send out for wholesale. I pick a Japanese beetle off of a basil leaf and ask if they’ve been pervasive this year. He nods and says, “I try not to have any pets on the farm. All of the animals have a job to do. The dog runs off the deer, the cat catches the mice. Last year my flock of ducks did a great job eating the beetles off this basil. The flock this year hasn’t really figured it out yet.”
Teaching ducks to act as the primary agent of pesticide against beetles is just one of the current challenges facing organic farmers. Explaining the rigors of maintaining organic certification, Bill explains, “Originally the term organic was just a free and loose term but now it’s federally regulated. If you gross more than $5000 in a year off a farm you cannot call it organic unless you are certified. There is something called the National Organic Program and it’s a list of rules about what is organic and what is not organic.” Though Hatchet Cove Farm is certified, Bill explains, “We have to recertify and get inspected again every year. The certification process itself includes a 60-70-page application. And I have to keep a daily log of everything I do on the farm, everything that I’ve applied to or taken off of the fields as well as what we’ve sold and where.”
Understandably, there are farmers who practice within the regulations of organic farming but forgo certification given the complex and expensive process. Anticipating my next question, Bill asks, “What’s the point of putting so much effort into certification?” I nod. “For me it tends to be more of a political stance. It gives us more of a political voice. We are officially counted on the side of organic farmers which means when lobbyists from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) go to Washington to lobby on the farm bill they can say ‘we represent this many certified organic farms, this much acreage, this much produce.’ And then, even more relevant in some ways, is our market power. One of the things that’s really holding organic agriculture back is that there are not that many products that are organically certified which I can use on the farm. Unless they’ve passed a really rigorous certification or review process I can't use it, even though it might very well be fine to use. So when they look at our farm and they say, okay HCF spends $100,000 a year on goods and services on their farm and they combine us with everybody else, they see that there is a sizeable market of organic farmers out there. There is more incentive to create products for us. If we grew the same way as we do but we weren’t certified, you couldn’t count us as part of that number so clearly.”