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Organic Food Catching on in Cadillac

MANTON - Every week, Heather Deitrick and her 6-year-old son Spencer can be found sorting through fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs at the Pond House Farm in Manton.

Although it might be more convenient to stop by the grocery store, the Cadillac family has been making their weekly excursions to the Manton farm to pick fresh produce for almost four years now. What makes taking a trip to the farm more favorable to the Deitricks is the fact that the produce is organically certified.

“My husband and I decided we wanted to eat healthier a few years back,” Deitrick said. “We were feeling tired and decided to change our eating habits. Since then we have been feeling a lot better.”

The Deitrick family is one of a handful of families who “shop” for produce grown by Theresa Williams at the Pond House Farm.

“This is my fourth season selling organic food, but I have been growing organic vegetables for about 20 years to feed the family,” she said. “It is just something that I like to do and by growing organic, you get really good food.”

What is organic?

When a product is organically grown, Williams said it must be free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

The main idea of organic farming, when it comes to growing produce, is to enhance the soil life.

“The most important thing is to optimize and create a good soil ecosystem,” Williams said. “People think of worms helping the soil, but there are hundreds of things that are alive. The microbial life interacts with and transports nutrients to the plants.”

Williams, who has a background in forestry and worked with pesticides and fertilizers, decided she didn't want to use harmful chemicals on her 40 acres. Not only would it be in the produce grown, but the ponds, wetland area and forest as well.

How to tell the difference

When looking at two pieces of produce, one being organically grown and one not, Williams said it is impossible to tell the difference.

“There is no way to tell the difference by looking at it, smelling it or even by tasting it,” she said.

Although there is no way a consumer can tell the difference on their own, there are other avenues. In a grocery store, organic food is labeled with a sticker saying “USDA Organic Seal.”

Another option to find out if a product is organic is by talking to the producer.

“Ask the person who grew the product,” she said. “But make sure you specifically ask that they meet the national standards for certified organic because some don't know what being organic is. Some may use less pesticides than others - although it may not be organic, it is still better.”

Hardships of being an organic farmer

Whether a person is an organic farmer or uses chemical pesticides, any farmer can face some sort of misfortune whether it be an infestation of bugs or a summer of drought.

This year Williams' gardens became invaded by bacteria wilt. The beetles ruined much of her crop of melons, winter squash, cucumbers and pumpkins.

“It hit us hard this year,” she said. “We took the covers off about two weeks early. It is a learning experience and I'll remember it in the future.”

Besides having to be on guard for insect infestations since she doesn't use pesticides, Williams spends countless hours picking off potato beetles, weeding and paying attention to the weather.

“I have to pick potato beetles off by hand,” she said. “The little things like that is one of the reasons why buying organic is more expensive.”

Although it is quite a bit more costly to buy organic, Deitrick said it is worth the cost.

“About 60 to 70 percent of all our food is organic,” she said. “We could save a lot by not buying all organic - it is expensive. We just budget our money and can do it.”

Your local connection

What is organic food?

By definition, organic food is produced according to organic standards, which means crops grown without use of conventional pesticides, artificial fertilizers or sewage sludge; and animals reared without the routine use of antibiotics and without the use of growth hormones and food processed without the use of food additives.

The following are some commonly found terms and labels on food items:

- 100 percent organic - can contain only organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt).

- Organic - 95 percent of the ingredients must be certified organic (excluding water and salt). The remaining 5 percent are non-organic ingredients approved by the National Organic Board (NOB) or agricultural ingredients that are not commercially available in an organic farm, such as cornstarch.

- Made with organic ingredients - indicates that at least 70 percent of the ingredients are organic. The remaining 30 percent must be non-organic agricultural ingredients or ingredients approved by the NOB.

- Contains organic ingredients - the product contains less than 70 percent of organic ingredients.

- Natural or all natural - is often used as an advertising term and can be added to packing at the discretion of the manufacturer. It does not mean the food is organic or natural.

Source: The Healing Garden Journal | 775-NEWS (6397)