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.
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
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
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.