Hepworth Farms

Hepworth Farms ApplesA number of people have come forward asking whether the fruit from Hepworth Farms, source of our fruit share, is organic. I understand this concern, as pesticide and spray residue are a worry to a lot of us. And I would love to have locally grown, organic fruit all the time; I come from California, where it is very easy to get almost any fruit organic, so that's what I'm really used to. Integrated Pest Management and the like are the best the farmers can do in the NY State climate, which is often quite wet and encouraging all sorts of pests and such.

The farm's fruit isn't 100% organic. The classification at Hepworth regarding fruit is "ecological fruits". This means all organic techniques are used when ecologically appropriate. And when appropriate otherwise, ecological fruits are treated with small amounts of targeted synthetic pesticides to minimize the use of broad spectrum organic pesticides, like sulphur, which is harsher to the environment. And judging from what I've heard and seen, the synthetic pesticides are soft and gentle to the environment.

Their decisions to use intervention are based on the ecology of any specific part of the farm. This is part of the Integrated Pest Management approach, which means the farmers monitor the orchards and make an educated decision regarding spraying - they will often just target a portion of the farm rather than spraying the entire farm.

They also do things like use organic fertilizer, and compost to reinvigorate the soil. They use worms, and also use the grape pumice (a byproduct of winemaking) from the Kedem winery in the composting process! One of the reasons they shy away from using sulphur is because of the worms, as it's bad for them. For the apples, they harvest twice a year, hand thinning the apples (this is a cultural practice and a way to deal with pests).

One reason they prefer to not use a broad spectrum spray is that it kills a lot of insects, including those that are beneficial to the crops. These beneficial insects eat other insects, like mites. Early on, they lost a segment of their apple crop because of mites. But they built up enough of a mite population so that natural predators were attracted. This give and take is now present, and is a way of keeping some bad insects at bay.

In the end, they will simply tolerate some problems (like powdery mildew on zucchini), and just plant more of any kind of crop. Crop rotation also plays into their technique, altering crops that take excess nitrogen from the soil with one that gives it back (complementary planting). Each year they expect to lose 25% of their crops. But they think it is all worth it. Amy Hepworth is very keen on sustainability and "dechemicalizing" the farm as much as she can.

There's a nice video that was produced in 2001 by the Park Slope Food Co-op. Amy Hepworth talks about all these issues. I highly recommend a viewing!

http://www.wideiris.net/foodcoop/12.html

Photo credit: http://thepersonalfarmer.typepad.com