Excerpt from One True Thing About Farming
January 7, 2009 was dreary. Sleet was forecasted for the overnight. The weather had been fluctuating between warm and cold snaps, but now it seemed cold was going to set in, first tentatively and then for good, with a measure of slop promised for the upcoming week. For the moment, however, it was dry, and Ed Lidzbarski was out on his tractor in Freehold, spreading manure across 60 acres of organic vegetable farm. He needed cold and dry conditions to put it down, and this was a window. He’d be looking for others. The job would take a few weeks and couldn’t be done when it was “terribly wet or terribly cold.” The day began when it was light enough to see and ended when it wasn’t. I called Ed after 7:00 at night and he had just packed it in. So much for the farmer knitting socks to pass the winter days.
Not so Easy Being Green
“How can I explain this to you? I think the fact that you’re organic in some cases changes everything, “ Ed began. He’s a fast talker, a stream of consciousness explainer. You have to keep up.
“It changes everything. If I wasn’t an organic grower, I’d probably be out there putting down bags of fertilizer and I could do that right in the growing season. But because I’m organic and I’m using raw manure, I can’t put it down close to the time I’m going to harvest plants. It has to be put down four months before, and so there’s a whole criteria. It’s much more involved than most people know. I mean, most people think that organic would be the simplistic form of growing and that growing with chemicals is so involved. You have to read the labels and do everything technically. But it’s just the opposite way around. The whole chemical era in agriculture is probably only about 60 or 70 years old versus how old organic is, which was from when the first seeds were planted, you know. I think that you can make organic agriculture pretty involved if you want to do it right. It’s a learning process that takes a lifetime. Guys that do it the longest are the ones that are best at it and the ones that don’t apply themselves that much aren’t as good at it.”
Ed remembers the status of organic farming when he began. “It was a small portion of what agriculture was, and we were sort of outcasts. We weren’t accepted by the Department of Agriculture. Everybody pooh-poohed what we were doing. We weren’t embraced by anyone. We were sort of the hippies growing pot. That’s what we were looked at as. I was always a conservative Republican. I wasn’t a hippie. So all of this has come full circle. Now the Department of Agriculture is crazy about us and extension services want to know about everything we’re doing. But I’m at the tail end of my career here. My son Jeffrey is really the one who is going to benefit from all of this.”