Monday, February 29, 2016

Too little, but not yet too late

corn harvest: is this farm organic? probably not
corn harvest: is this farm organic? probably not
Photo by J. Harrington

Do you know how many farms there are in Minnesota that are certified organic? According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, there are an estimated 560 organic farms, of which only a little more than 200 (1 out of 3) are listed in the voluntary directory. According to this Census report, as of 2012, Minnesota had about 75,000 farms totaling nearly 26 million acres of the state’s 54 million acres. Since we're considering very round numbers here, I'm going to take the liberty of dividing 560 estimated organic farms, heck, let's round up to 1,000, by 75,000 total farms. That means something like 1% to 1.5% of Minnesota's farms are organic. Again from the census report "net cash farm income ... averaged $94,345 per farm."

It would be interesting to get a sense of the distribution of income in addition to the average, but it's clear that farming wasn't completely going broke and that, like many small business owners, farmers no doubt try to maximize profit by minimizing expenses. Getting certified organic costs money, but, on the other hand, I keep reading that more and more consumers are looking for locally, sustainably produced food, for which organic is often a shorthand term. Could Minnesotans make a dent in cleaning up their water by eating less and less processed foods, living a more healthy lifestyle and reducing the commodity market for row crop producers? Part of the challenge of clean water in Minnesota would then seem to be the need to educate consumers about the benefits to our water from organic farming. It's not a panacea, as we noted here a few days ago, but it seems to offer several major steps in the right direction and can help address greenhouse gas reductions too.

For a slightly different perspective on some of these topics, take a look at MinnPost's Earth Journal coverage with Dr. Deb Swackhamer. You might also want to take a look at the Minnesota state auditor's maps on the age of city infrastructure throughout the state. We'll no doubt need quite a few "extra" days to get the job done. UPDATE: USDA offers "new" conservation tool for organic farmers.
FEBRUARY 29

Jane Hirshfield

An extra day —

Like the painting’s fifth cow,
who looks out directly,
straight toward you,
from inside her black and white spots.

An extra day —

Accidental, surely:
the made calendar stumbling over the real
as a drunk trips over a threshold
too low to see.

An extra day —

With a second cup of black coffee.
A friendly but businesslike phone call.
A mailed-back package.
Some extra work, but not too much —
just one day’s worth, exactly.

An extra day —

Not unlike the space
between a door and its frame
when one room is lit and another is not,
and one changes into the other
as a woman exchanges a scarf.

An extra day —

Extraordinarily like any other.
And still
there is some generosity to it,
like a letter re-readable after its writer has died.


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