Volume 9, Number 8                                        September 27, 2006

The Farmer


Organic is not good enough

by Dr. Ridgely Abdul Muímin Muhammad

Yes, you can eat the spinach from Muhammad Farms. We hope to be picking spinach in November. It will be holistically grown which we believe is better than "organic", because we want you to eat to live.

The source of the recent E. coli outbreak in spinach has been narrowed down to three counties in California. The contaminated spinach was supposedly grown on an "organic" farm. I put quotation marks around "organic" because this is a loaded word. Organic simply means containing carbon. For instance the study of chemistry where the compounds investigated contain carbon is called organic chemistry. The culturally accepted meaning of "organic" has to do with how a crop is grown. "Organic" commonly means a crop that is grown without the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides. However "organic" can kill you. How?

Investigators have narrowed down the E. coli contamination to three possible causes. The strain of E. coli bacteria found in the spinach comes from animal fecal matter. It could get onto the spinach from contaminated irrigation water, non-composted manure fertilizer or dirty hands. Raw sewage from human or animal waste is a good source of "organic" nitrogen fertilizer. But it also breeds the E. coli bacteria. A good farmer knows that you do not treat growing plants with raw sewage. However, a farmer in a pinch might spray raw sewage on his growing crops to increase his profit margin or just to survive in a highly competitive market where prices are falling but his costs are rising.

Under organic regulations, raw manure cannot be applied less than 90 days before the harvest of any food crop Ė or 120 days if the crop touches the soil. Compost made with manure must reach temperatures high enough to kill off pathogens. Once infected, simply washing it is not good enough to destroy the pathogens. The only sure way to destroy them is to cook the infected produce at sufficient temperatures. Unfortunately, people have gotten so lazy that they no longer cook or even wash the vegetables that they get in these convenient prepackaged plastic bags.

We use manures at Muhammad Farms, but we compost the manure first which kills the E. coli and other harmful bacteria. Then we do not spray or dump even this composted manure on growing crops. We spread it over our fields then cultivate it into the soil before we plant the crop. The plants then grow in a natural and healthy environment where they synthesize these elements to produce a strong healthy plant and tasty fruit.

Over the last few years a demand has grown for "organic" foods. The commercial agricultural industry has moved in to supply that demand motivated by the profit it brings. What makes you think that just because they call something "organic" that it will be good for you to eat? These commercial farmers know what to do. However, if they get in a pinch or fall behind in their scheduling, they may result to cutting corners to "make a crop".

As a consumer how can you be sure of the safety of the food that you buy? One sure way is to learn how to grow it and grow it yourself. Another way is to find someone that you know and trust to do the right thing by you. Here at Muhammad Farms we consider this farm "your" farm and not "our" farm. Our self-accusing spirit will not allow us to do things that we know may be harmful to you. On top of this we eat what we grow as well as distribute it to you. In fact, we eat a lot of what we can not distribute to our patrons because of superficial blemishes or size. The produce tastes good and is good for you, but may not look as pretty as you may be accustomed to. Most commercial farmers donít have the time to bother with cooking and eating what they grow. They grow acres and acres of one crop and try to get as much money as possible so that they can go to the store just like you to get their groceries. What they canít sell they may dump into their animal feedlots.

According to a MSNBC.com article by Samuel Fromartz, the company first linked to the outbreak works with a vast network of partners, like many companies in the valley 100 miles south of San Francisco. In addition to the produce grown on its 26,000-acre land base, the farm contracts with independent growers and washes and bags salad greens for competing brands, making it hard to trace the outbreak to a specific farm.

Although the E. coli bacteria live in cattle, they can spread through manure in rainwater run-off, in irrigation lines, in packaging plants or through infected workers. This valley in California is home to a large number of commercial feedlots where a tremendous amount of raw manure is produced which can be washed into streams and irrigation canals. Commercial interests have overloaded the natural environment to the point that millions of people can be affected by the mistakes of a few.

"The irony is that all the states where people got ill could be growing their own spinach this time of year," said James Riddle, a former adviser to the Agriculture Department on organic food regulations.

Now we hear that Wal-Mart is entering the "organic" market in a big way. "Organic" prices should surely drop and Wal-Mart will surely import lots of "organics" from China where spreading raw sewage is a farming tradition.

Now that the label "organic" may not be good enough to insure safety, it is time for us to consider the advice of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan to put a garden in every small piece of earth that you can find or even in pots inside of your home. The Ministry of Agriculture would suggest that you do a few things. First, start cooking again from scratch. Second, continue to read the "Farmer Newsletter" and other related materials at www.MuhammadFarms.com. Third, contact your local representative of the Ministry of Agriculture whenever you have a food or agriculturally related question. Fourth, start growing some of your vegetables locally. Fifth, start local food buying clubs so that when you find a good source of holistically grown food you can share it with others. Sixth, when you find a farmer that grows good vegetables and fruits or produces good eggs, milk or meat, be willing to pay him more than the market price for conventionally grown products especially if he has to bring them to you. And seventh, continue to support the Three Year Economic Savings Program so we can expand your independent and safe food system.

Muhammad Farms and the other small farmers we work with will be glad to supply you with fresh wholesome holistically grown produce to supplement your own production. In addition the Ministry of Agriculture produces a book entitled "No Farms, No Food" which gives instructions on how to set up your small garden and grow your own vegetables. Soon we will be announcing a workshop where you can come to Muhammad Farms and be instructed by gardening experts on how to get the most from your small plots of land.

Read this interesting article: Landless Workers Movement: The Difficult Construction
of a New World

Books and lectures by Dr. Ridgely A. Mu'min