Organic farming may be going global, but southern Wisconsin organic farmers remain committed to locally grown organic food.
The New York Times reported recently that organic farms in the deserts of Mexico, supported by intensive irrigation, are exporting their harvest thousands of miles into the United States. While those products might be certified organic, the practice pushes the limits of traditional organic farming.
"I'm not sure the definition of organic in Mexico is the same as here in the United States," said organic vegetable farmer Janet Gamble of rural Delavan. "Does Mexico have the same organic standards? Are their standards vigorously enforced? And is there anything added to the product when it's shipped?"
Gamble farms 13 acres leased from the VDB Organic Farm owned by Bob and Beth Van De Boom.
"There are other issues such as labor costs and security," she said. "Lower costs in Mexico can drive down prices here while food security can be breached not knowing how strict inspections are conducted there, for example."
Bob Van De Boom raises organic grass-fed beef. Like Gamble, he emphasizes the local component of organic farming.
"Our cattle are organic grass-fed year round," said Van De Boom, whose farm is located on Pinnow Road in rural Delavan.
"In the warmer months, we feed the cattle from organic grass pastures. In the winter, they are fed organic grass we harvested and put into what is called baleage."
Van De Boom harvests the organic grass and puts it into 4-foot bales wrapped in plastic.
"We also make sure the animals are fed for at least 60 days on organic grass before they are harvested to ensure that the nutrients of the organic grass gets into the meat."
Van De Boom sells only to local customers.
"We have a very loyal local customer base," he said. "Most of them like to visit the farm to see how we operate an organic beef cattle operation."
Van De Boom said he doesn't think much about foreign organic farms because he believes local is a necessary component of organic farming.
"It's more than chemical-free," he said. "Organic is a culture that includes locally grown for local consumption."
VDB Organic Farm is part of a community supported agriculture network that delivers locally grown products and provides drop-off points for consumers to pick up the products.
"Here in the Walworth County area, we have a drop-off point in East Troy and one in Burlington," Van De Boom said. "We have found that the CSA (community supported agriculture) program helps the local producer get food to local customers."
Randy Hughes of Janesville, one of Rock County's veteran organic farmers, said he has always advocated for local organic farming.
Hughes farms about 1,000 acres of organic blue corn, peas, yellow corn, soybeans and wheat.
"I assume organic farming in Mexico is still organic farming, but it goes against the idea of locally grown," Hughes said. "If you buy local, you don't have to worry about preservatives and other factors associated with transportation."
But those transportation issues vary with the product, Hughes said.
"We send some of our organic crops to Japan, but it's a lot easier to store and transport corn, for example, than tomatoes," he said. "When we started out, Japan was one of just a few markets, so we have continued to be certified by JASS, the organic Japanese Agricultural Standard System, as well as our national standards."
The Hughes Farms organic blue corn is used in its Blue Farm chips.
"We only distribute the chips locally here in the Midwest," Hughes said. "One limitation we have is that we use not only organic corn, but we insist on working with processing plants that use only organic cooking oil to make the chips."
Hughes said he gets support for his organic chips from several local retailers.
"There's a growing interest and acceptance for locally grown organic food," he said. "We get great support here in Janesville from Woodman's and Basics Cooperative."
While he's an advocate of locally grown organic food, Hughes said organic is still the emphasis.
"I'd rather eat an organic tomato from Mexico than a non-organic tomato grown in Janesville with pesticides."
A dozen farms in Rock and Walworth counties are certified organic, according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection:
-- Denny and Susan Wright, Wright Way Farm, 9002 W. County H, Beloit, grow soybeans, corn and vegetables on 39 acres.
-- Kyle Thom, Roots Down Farm, 4146 E. County N, Milton, grows vegetables on 1.2 acres.
-- Michael Scott, Scott Farm, 915 S. Sharon Road, Janesville, grows clover, soybeans and corn on 154 acres.
-- Randy Hughes, Randy Hughes Farm, 4031 S. Highway 51, Janesville, grows wheat, peas, soybeans and corn on 815 acres.
-- Steven Pincus, Tipi Produce, 14706 W. Ahara Road, Evansville, grows alfalfa and vegetables on 76 acres.
-- Altfrid and Sue Krusenbaum, KrusenGrass Farms, W3194 County D, Elkhorn, grow alfalfa and raises dairy cows, beef cattle and poultry on 304 acres.
-- Charles Palmer, Palmer Farm, W4211 Palmer Road, Lake Geneva, grows hay, wheat, soybeans and corn on 400 acres.
-- Ed and Jill Schoenberg, Ed & Jill Schoenberg Farm, N5064 Highway 120, Elkhorn, grow hay and barley on 164 acres.
-- John Pounder, Pounder Brothers Farm, N4734 County M, Delavan, grows hay, wheat, soybeans and corn and raises Angus beef on 202 acres.
-- Ken, Virginia and Karl Knuteson, Sunny Brook Farm, N9217 Duffin Road, Whitewater, grow alfalfa, grass, oats and soybeans on 90 acres.
-- Mike Peters, Peters Farm, N330 County K, Sharon, grows barley and corn on 240 acres.
-- Robert and Beth Van De Boom, VDB Farms, N5181 Pinnow Road, Delavan, grow alfalfa and raise beef cattle, sheep and poultry on 127 acres.