Indiana Farmers Embrace Organic as Demand for Produce Rises | Local News

ANDERSON — For Sam Johnson, organic farming isn’t just a practical way to protect the environment. It is also an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.

“My main reason for doing this is just to get away from all these problems that we have with herbicide and pesticide resistance,” Johnson said. “We’re just getting back to the natural ways our bodies process food.”

Organic farming is undeniably becoming more mainstream in the US agricultural industry. According to an analysis of data from the 2019 USDA Organic Farming Survey by, the number of organic farms in the United States has increased by more than 50% in the last decade. The country’s roughly 16,500 organic farms now cover about 5.5 million acres, a 38% increase from 2008.

This growth reflected growing consumer demand over the same period, with sales of organic products nearly tripling to around $9.9 billion.

With about 600 certified organic farms covering about 43,000 acres, Indiana ranks about in the middle of the country in these categories. California, the nation’s top state for overall agricultural sales, also leads in organic production, with more than 3,000 farms covering nearly one million acres.

Conservationists say that while some parts of the country have more temperate climates that make it easier to establish and maintain organic farming practices, several other factors should also be considered when evaluating the data.

“Culture, climate and infrastructure all play a part,” said Ashley Adair, an organic agriculture extension specialist at Purdue University. “I think the biggest obstacle for many people interested in small-scale organic farming is access to land. In some places land is expensive and the market is competitive. This is a difficult problem to solve. »

Johnson, a native of Noblesville, spent three years running a hemp farm in Colorado before returning to the area, settling partly north of Anderson, he said, because the land was so cheap compared to other parts of the country.

He started with a 10-acre field, then bought another 10 acres nearby. He currently owns about 25 acres which serves as a hub for an organic farm and composting service where, in addition to growing crops without pesticides, he converts food waste into materials that keep the soil healthier. These practices, he said, help soil microbes more efficiently transport nutrients to plants.

“The plant won’t give up those carbs without those microbes giving something back,” he said.

When it’s not the growing season, Johnson maintains cover crops on a portion of his fields to maintain microbial health and keep the soil permeable during the winter months.

“The big problem is that not all of these nutrients are readily available to plants,” he said. “We’re trying to be careful about how we feed bacteria and fungi, where we’re trying to create an environment that they can thrive in, because they’ll extract those minerals and bring them (to plants).”

An overlooked benefit of organic farming practices, according to many proponents, is pest control. Healthy soil, it is believed, naturally leads to a healthier overall landscape.

“It’s important to have this healthy natural landscape,” said Chuck Pease, owner of Free Folk Farm, a small urban farm in Anderson that supplies local food markets and other outlets with produce from biological agriculture. “You want to have predators of your parasites as much as you can.”

Pease said it uses physical barriers instead of chemicals to control insects, weeds and other irritants that can harm crops.

“We constantly use landscape fabric techniques to control weeds,” he said. “The herbicides move through the water…they wash off the field and I’m sure they break down at some point. It goes into the surrounding environment, and that environment is important to keep in balance.

Adair noted that as consumer demand for organically grown products grows, lawmakers — including those in the Indiana General Assembly — can put in place incentives to encourage more farmers to incorporate organic practices into their operations.

She pointed to the USDA’s Whole Farm Revenue Protection program, which last year added a policy allowing small farms – primarily those with annual incomes below $8.5 million – to insure their operations with a simplified record keeping system. The new policy, she said, should especially help organic farmers who sell their produce locally.

“Historically, small farmers have had virtually no access to crop insurance because of these record keeping requirements,” Adair said. “Policies like this can go a long way in helping farmers go organic with the least risk and the most rewards. We just need to make sure that the policies in place are accessible to anyone considering organic farming.

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