Growing Organic
Produced by Jerry Blair


The first year Brian Leahy grew organic, the local newspaper said it was a Communist conspiracy to overthrow the American food chain. And it was a joke for the rest of ag. But today many of the largest agricultural producers inCalifornia -- and the world -- have embraced organic production.

The movement that was once seen by some as a plot by the "Red Menace" is now one of the fastest growing segments in the U.S. agricultural complex. In the 1990s, organic acreage doubled, and California was among the top organic-producing states.

Once seen as a movement driven by the ecology and operated on small farms, recent gains in the organic community now show a trend driven by profits.

The Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education Program at UC Davis provides leadership and support for farmers, researchers, educators, and other ag related agencies in California. They've been tracking the growth of organic ag since 1987.

Sean Swezwy, Director of SAREP, claimes that in the last decade there has been an increase of 20% per year in the growth of the sales of organic commodities to the consumer.

Often when we hear the term "organic," we think "row crop." But one of the fastest growing facets of the organic community is dairy. A Time magazine report points to a national increase in dairy cows from 13,000 to 49,000 between 1999 and 2001. Riding this upward trend is Fresno dairyman Mark McAfee, manager of Organic Pastures Dairy Company.

McAfee says that his business is based on an entirely different philosophy than the conventional dairy sytem. Organic dairies are not about making massive amounts of production at low prices; they're about what's good for the cow, what's good for the environment, what's good for the farmer, what's good for the consumers -- and what is nutritionally correct.

McAfee points to his role as a certified organic dairyman as a major benefit to his success, emphasizing the added nutritional values of his products not seen in conventional dairy products.

For example, his raw milk is not in any way, shape, or form processed. It's never been pasteurized, never homogenized, never touched by man. It's just chilled immediately, filtered through a cotton filter, and put into a glass bottle. It's always kept cold so it doesn't break the cold chain. Also, McAfee's dairy produces the only commercially raw, fresh, unprocessed butter available in the United States today.

McAfee's 400 acre pasture has been his focus and interest as an organic dairyman. And his mobile milking barn is McAfee's innovative pride and joy. Instead of having the cows go to a barn, the barn goes to the cows. Miliking is the only time the cows are off the pasture, and with this one-of-a-kind device, McAfee is able to avoid a lot of regulations and permits.

In recent years, some major retailers have taken notice of the ballooning popularity of the "organic" brand, and are now adding their own organic products into the mix. This creates some sticking points in terms of philosophical approach.

Brian Leahy sums it up by pointing out that agriculture has been a history of new innovations in which the early adapters tend to make some money...but once everyone else climbs on board that advantage disappears.



Brian Leahy
President, CA Certified Organic Farmers

Sean Swezey
Director of SAREP

Mark McAfee
Owner, Organic Pasture Dairy


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