Organic Vegetable Production: Farm Case Studies, Systems Descriptions, and Farmer Interviews

Organic Agriculture March 10, 2014|Print

eOrganic authors:

Alex Stone, Oregon State University

John McQueen, Oregon State University

Introduction

Experienced organic farmers are experts - they know how to manage soils and soil fertility as well as beneficial insects and pests, produce crops, and manage a business. They are also systems thinkers - they know how to put it all together into cropping systems and farm enterprises. How can all of us (farmers, agricultural professionals, educators, and researchers) learn from experienced farmers? Case studies, systems descriptions, and farmer interviews aim to capture and extend farmer expertise.

Regions

West

  • Cultural practices and sample costs for organic vegetable production on the central coast of California. Undated. K. Klonsky, L. Tourte, D. Chaney, P. Livingston, and R. Smith. University of California Vegetable Research and Information Center. Davis, CA. Available online at: http://vric.ucdavis.edu/pdf/Organic/organic_culturalpracticesandsamplecostsfororgprodcosts.pdf (verified 4 June 2012).

    "Comprehensive overview of commercial organic vegetable production on the Central Coast, with crop-specific enterprise budgets. Organic vegetable farms on the Central Coast region of California are generally intensive operations. That is, two and sometimes three crops may be harvested off the same acreage each year. Many approaches exist for growing and marketing organic vegetables. This publication describes the range of soil management practices, pest management, crop rotations, cover crops, and harvest and packing methods currently used by organic growers on the Central Coast of California. Marketing options and state and federal regulations governing organic commodities are also discussed. A general sequence of operations, equipment requirements, resource use, costs, yield and return ranges are presented for thirteen vegetable crops and two cover crops. The vegetables included are cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, garlic, lettuce (leaf and romaine), onions (red and yellow), snap peas, snow peas, bell peppers (green and red), sweet corn, and winter squash (large and small varieties). Barley and vetch are the two cover crops detailed."
  • Northwest Direct farmer case studies [Online]. Undated. Rural Roots and the University of Idaho. Available at: http://www.ruralroots.org/programs/nwdirect/casestudies/ (verified 4 March 2010).

  • Closing the loop. Full Circle Farm [Online]. 2004. I. Dankmeyer. Rodale Institute. Kutztown, PA. Available at: http://newfarm.rodaleinstitute.org/features/0904/fullcircle/index.shtml (verified 4 March 2010).

    "It started ten years ago with a rototiller and an idea. Today, Full Circle Farm grows organic produce for 500 CSA members, 50 restaurants, 15 grocery stores, 12 farmers' markets, and 4 wholesalers." Excerpted from the book Renewing the Countryside: Washington.
     
  • New life on the Big Island [Online]. P. Emerson. 2005. Rodale Institute. Kutztown, PA. Available at: http://newfarm.rodaleinstitute.org/features/2005/0605/laughingpig/index.... (verified 4 March 2010).

    Laughing Pig Farm, Hawaii. "In the wake of the Hawai'ian sugar industry's decline, small organic producers like Lou Russo and Bari Green emphasize diverse cropping systems, local markets and long-term sustainability."

  • Northern California’s Full Belly Farm redefines what it means to be a family farmer. L. Hamilton. 2003. Rodale Institute. Kutztown, PA.
    Available online at: http://newfarm.rodaleinstitute.org/features/1103/fullbelly.shtml (verified 4 March 2010).

    Full Belly Farm, California. "Despite its 35 full-time workers, 15 retail accounts, 15 wholesale accounts, 650 member CSA and three farmers’ markets almost year ‘round, Full Belly still has the heart and soul of a family farm."

  • Three farmers, many lives. L. Sayre. undated. Rodale Institute. Kutztown, PA.
    Available online at: http://newfarm.rodaleinstitute.org/features/2005/0505/alba/profiles.shtml (verified 4 March 2010).

    Farmers from the ALBA Program, California. "Graduates of the ALBA program, now independent farmers, say what they value most is growing food without chemicals, working with family members and being their own bosses."


  • Living mulch system. H. Atthowe. 2006. In Weed 'Em and Reap Part 2. Reduced tillage systems for vegetable cropping systems [DVD]. A. Stone (Producer). Oregon State University Department of Horticulture. Corvallis, OR. Available online at:
    Weed 'Em and Reap Part 2. Reduced Tillage Strategies for Vegetable Cropping Systems.

    Helen Atthowe's Fukuoka-inspired reduced tillage living mulch vegetable production system evolved from her diverse farming and research experiences and is grounded in the ecology of the Bitterroot Valley of Montana.

Northeast

  • Organic vegetable farms in New England: Three case studies. K. Stoner, S. Gilman, S. Vanek, B. Caldwell, C. Mohler, M. McGrath, D. Conner, A. Rangarajan. 2008. Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 1021.

    • Kestrel Farm. Tom Harlow, Westminster, VT.
    • Upper Forty Farm. Kathy, Ben, and Andy Caruso, Cromwell, CT.
    • New Leaf Farm. Dave and Christine Colson, Durham, ME.
       
  • Organic and sustainable in South Jersey. L. Sayre. Undated. Rodale Institute. Kutztown, PA.
    Available online at: http://newfarm.rodaleinstitute.org/features/0603/muth.shtml (verified 4 March 2010).

    Bob Muth, Muth Farm. New Jersey. "Sucessfully fighting high land values and NAFTA. Beginning in 1999, Bob Muth started transitioning acres to organic. He now has nine of his 80 acres certified organic . . . and is wondering if he should go all the way organic with his CSA, farm stand and wholesale operations."

  • From big city to small farm: Couple successfully follows their dream. M. DeVault. 2003. Rodale Institute. Kutztown, PA.
    Available online at: http://newfarm.rodaleinstitute.org/depts/beginning_farmers/0403/frankill... (verified 4 March 2010).

    "Jeffrey Frank and Kristin Illick started farming four years ago as novice apprentices. Now they supply a farmer’s market and 10 restaurants with greens, heirloom tomatoes, baby veggies and herbs."

Midwest

  • Angelic Organics manages the economics of a 1,000-Member CSA. D. Maulsby. 2003. Rodale Institute. Kutztown, PA.
    Available online at: http://newfarm.rodaleinstitute.org/depts/talking_shop/1203/biodynamic1.s... (verified 4 March 2010).

    "The owners of the Illinois-based CSA shared their mission statement, organizational chart and business plans with attendees at the...[2003] Biodynamic Farming Conference in Ames, Iowa."
     
  • Molly and Ted Bartlett, Silver Creek Farm. Hiram, Ohio. In The New American Farmer, 2nd Ed. V. Berton. 2005. Sustainable Agriculture Network (now SARE Outreach). Beltsville, MD. Available online at: http://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/amp/images/naf2.pdf (verified 4 March 2010).

    "Bartlett and her husband, Ted, mulled over how to best market their small farm and decided to focus their efforts locally. Starting a community supported agriculture (CSA) operation seemed a great way to connect with their customers while bringing in a steady income. CSA involves consumers as shareholders in the farm in exchange for fresh produce every week during the season."

  • Richard DeWilde and Linda Halley, Harmony Valley Farm. Viroqua, Wisconsin. In The New American Farmer, 2nd Ed. V. Berton. 2005. Sustainable Agriculture Network (now SARE Outreach). Beltsville, MD. Available online at: http://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/amp/images/naf2.pdf (verified 4 March 2010).

    "Richard DeWilde [Harmony Valley Farm] questioned whether to become a farmer at all, but once he decided that’s what he wanted to do, he never really questioned how he’d go about it. For him, it was organic production or nothing. Once he made that decision, DeWilde determined to grow crops organically for direct sale to individuals, although he wasn’t sure whether running a small farming enterprise would pay the bills. He spent a number of lean years and long, hard days finding the answer."

South

  • North Carolina organic vegetable production cost study. E.A. Estes, T. Kleese, and L. Lauffer. 2003. ARE Report No. 31. Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC and Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. Available online at: http://www.ncsu.edu/project/arepublication/AREno31.pdf (verified 4 March 2010).

    "During 2001, we asked 24 growers to maintain detailed production and marketing records for one entire crop season. The 24 cooperators grew 8 different organic vegetables so we had cost records for one crop from three growers. Before the study started, we hypothesized that only slight cost differences would exist across each commodity grower, that is, each grower would incur similar cultural and marketing costs but fixed and labor costs would vary considerably across growers. In fact there were significant differences in machinery, equipment, and labor but also in cultural and marketing expenditures among farmers who raised the same crop. It is clear that growers employed a variety of cultural methods to raise the crop a few cost similarities were observed for each commodity. A variety of cultural practices, equipment and machinery ownership, use of own and hired labor, and marketing techniques contributed to significant differences in per unit costs of production. Peppers, squash, and lettuce were the most expensive study crops to grow (dollar cost / 100 square feet) while sweet corn, tomatoes, and salad mix were the least expensive crops to raise (dollar cost / 100 square feet) based on cooperator records. Net returns per 100 square feet also varied considerably within and across commodities but overall tomatoes, lettuce, salad mix, and sweet corn were among the most profitable."

  • Organic horticulture and marketing videos [Online]. Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Virtual Farm Tours. Available for purchase at:http://www.ssawg.org/web-resources/ (verified 4 March 2010).

    • Video #1: Maple Springs Gardens. "This 18 minute video demonstrates the successful farming system Ken Dawson has developed in North Carolina. It provides a general overview of the farming system and highlights two key components: plasticulture and hired labor. This video has already won two prestigious national video awards. It won first place in the Media Communication Association International Golden Reel competition and, from over 10,000 entries, this video placed second in the Telly Awards."
    • Video #2: Au Naturel Farm. "This 18 minute video demonstrates the successful farming system Paul and Alison Wiediger have developed in Kentucky. It provides a general overview of the farming system and highlights two key components: high tunnel or hoophouse production and electronic communication to market their products."

Outside of US

  • United Kingdom

    • Organic vegetable systems studies [Online]. P. Sumption and A. Rosenfeld. Henry Doubleday Research Association.
      Available at: http://organicgardening.org.uk/organicveg/ (verified 4 March 2010)

      "The farms participating in the network were selected to represent the range of conditions in which organic vegetables are grown in the UK. These include production systems on mixed, arable and intensive farm types, representing a range of sizes from 11 to 2400 ha. Many of the larger units supply vegetables to packers supplying supermarkets, while smaller units often market their produce directly at farmers’ markets, farm shops or alternative outlets such as local wholesalers and box schemes. There are case studies on both organic and conversion farms."

      • Case studies of UK organic vegetable farms. Click on the left hand menu to find an overview, and click on 'leaflet' to the right of farm names in the table for individual farm case study information.
      • Case studies of UK vegetable farms converting to organic
      • Summary of organic conversion study
        "When this project began in 1996 the UK supply of organic vegetables, from 2400 hectares, was insufficient to meet the growing market and the majority of organic vegetables were imported. It was a policy objective to enable UK farmers to meet the demands of this growing market. A farmer converting to organic agriculture is faced with a range of specific problems different from those of conventional agriculture and of established organic systems and a lack of knowledge about these problems was recognised as a major barrier for individual farmers considering conversion. The overall aim of this project was to provide information on the agronomic and economic performance of farming systems which included field vegetables as part of their rotations during the conversion period and in the years immediately afterwards. The project was commissioned in 1996 as Project OF0126T, later continued as OF019; this report describes the findings from both projects. The projects were led by HDRA with HRI (now Warwick HRI), EFRC (Elm Farm Research Centre), and the Institute of Rural Sciences (University of Wales, Aberystwyth) as subcontractors. There were two parts to this work:

        1. Monitoring the conversion of 13 ha on an experimental station (the Hunts Mill field at Warwick HRI, Wellesbourne) from 1996 to 2001 (hereafter referred to as ‘Hunts Mill’). The most detailed measurements were made here since it was possible to establish plots with contrasting cropping strategies.
        2. Monitoring the conversion of ten commercially managed reference farms from 1996 to 2002 (hereafter referred to as the ‘Reference Farms’). These were selected to represent three different scenarios of conversion (from conventional arable, from conventional intensive vegetable and from conventional mixed farms with livestock). The farms represented a range of sizes and were located in the principle vegetable growing areas of England."

 

This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic's articles on organic certification.

eOrganic 3122