Location: Star Route Farms, Bolinas, CA

Featuring: Warren Weber

Organic is farming using natural systems and inputs with a view toward a sustainable future. Warren Weber has the oldest continuously certified farm in California.

Why buy organic?

Because organic contributes to the health of the soil, the plants, the workers, and the consumers.

Why grow organic?

Apart from not polluting the soil, the aquifers, and ourselves, growing organic ensures that you are building soils for future generations and doing so in a way that maintains a balance of critical natural resources.

Warren Weber says that 35 years ago, most "experts" thought organics couldn't produce so many different crops in so many different regions of the world. They were wrong. In the 1950's, 20% of commerical farms in California were under 10 acres. Many of these farms were successful doing small crops. That model fell apart as mega farms emerged and food became a commodity. The only way for small farms to survive was to go organic. Star Route was the first in California.

The First Organic Farmer in California

The First Organic Farmer in California

Warren Weber has an organic farm in Bolinas, California. If you know where Bolinas is then you know Warren. If you don’t know where Bolinas is I can’t help you. It’s a town on a map but no road signs will direct you there. Why? Because whenever a sign goes up, the locals yank it down. It’s a town apart. People there are just different, Warren included. His hundred acres are the oldest continuously certified organic row crop farm in California.

I ask Warren about the good old days. He claims the best thing that happened to small farmers was industrial agriculture. It forced them to do something different to survive in the marketplace. To him, doing “something different” meant going organic.

While there are many types of agriculture, consumers mainly see two: organic and conventional. Organic farming uses natural inputs that enhance soil fertility. That means nothing is used that might prove harmful to the air, the water, or the soil. Conventional farming uses petrochemical-based herbicides and fertilizers. Their use has been linked to water and air pollution and soil decontamination. Consumers concerned about the external costs  associated with conventional agriculture—things that may affect their health and the environment—often buy organic products.

The USDA has designated organic certifications for meat and dairy products, produce, flowers, and even clothing made from cotton. 

Sounds simple? It isn’t. In fact, it’s an extremely polarizing conversation. For many, the concept of organics is tantamount to a religion. Its followers are a mix of the devout and the profane, true believers and disenchanted agnostics, and people who view things as “big government versus the little guy”. In fact, the most personal question you’ll ever ask small farmers is whether they’re certified organic. Some will heartily reply, “Yes!” Others may consider themselves organic in practice but have opted out of the federal government’s organic certification program. This means they can’t call themselves certified organic.

As Eliot Coleman, a farmer and author of The New Organic Grower points out, “I’ve never been organically certified because I don’t believe we know enough to say exactly what practices create the most nutritious food. That’s been taken over by the USDA. They stated when they first rolled out organic certification that they didn’t believe it was any better than other food, so it’s a little hard to join up and play their game. We try to be law abiding. We don’t call our produce ‘organic’, though we do insist on calling this an ‘organic farm’."

This is an excerpt from Douglas Gayeton's new book LOCAL: The New Face of Food & Farming in America available at local book stores now