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Feature: Organic farms grow healthier produce for residents in Southern California

English.news.cn   2013-08-18 10:15:11            

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 17 (Xinhua) -- A farm with 27 acres (11 hectares) is not big, but when the organic cucumbers sold in the U.S. state of California and other states show the label of "South Coast Farms," it means something.

About 60 miles (97 km) from Los Angeles, the South Coast Farms is situated in an area close to a school and residents in Orange County, California. It is one of the few certified organic growers of wholesome, organic fruits and vegetables in the county.

A recent visit to the farm found several farmers were working in the field and a food store was selling fresh fruits and vegetables.

"Those baskets of vegetables were picked up in the morning and are waiting to be delivered to our customers," said Nikki Hieb, a young woman in her 30s who works in the food store.

"Basically we sell fruits and vegetables grown in the farm here at our own food store. The only exception is cucumber. We sell cucumbers to superstores in California and other states," said Hieb.

She said right now it is the cucumber growing season and the major vegetable grown in the field is cucumber.

Hieb graduated from a college with a degree in international relations and she found a job at a law firm after graduation. But two years ago she quit her law firm job to work in the farm.

"I find to work at the food store and in the farm has more fun. I love working here because organic fruits and vegetables will make people healthier," Hieb said energetically.

The farm is owned by George Kibby, who studied life sciences and then agriculture business management at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly). While at Cal Poly, he worked at a dairy and realized how much he loved working on a farm.

Even at high school, Kibby started to grow some vegetables in a small yard and sold to the farmers' market. After graduation from Cal Poly, he started to grow conventional strawberries in Santa Barbara, California but became interested in organic farming by watching what the local organic growers were doing.

Convinced that the future is in sustainable farming, Kibby purchased a conventional farm in San Juan Capistrano in Orange County, California in 1996 to start the present South Coast Farms.

Kibby was determined to turn the conventional farm into an organic one. However, the process was hard and painful - he had to wait for four years to plant cover crops to build the soil as required by the government for transition from conventional to certified organic farm. In the four years he had no or limited income from the field but had to pay the rent and other costs.

According to Hieb, once turned to organic farming, the field can no longer be cultivated with chemicals, chemical fertilizers and pesticide.

"We use herbal and natural ways to kill the pests and use natural fertilizers like manures for our produce," said Hieb. If the vegetables were damaged by pests and the natural way could not kill the pests, the vegetables in the field have to be abandoned in total, she added.

According to Hieb, the farm hires about 40 farmers working in the field on the average, and during busy season more workers are needed.

Are organic fruits and vegetables more expensive? Hieb's answer is yes, but only 30 percent more than the price of conventional produce.

She said in the past six years prices for organic produce remained stable because as more people come to buy organic produce, the costs came down.

"Most of our customers are from the middle class who care more about their health and have the money to pay for organic produce. Most of them are young mothers who want their children to have better and healthier food," said Hieb.

The farm has regular customers who come to buy or order their produce every week, and Hieb has seen the number of customers on the growth.

The growing need for organic produce benefits from the spread of information and education.

In the farm there is an ecology center. Although it is run by a non-profit organization, it serves as an educational center on organic farming and to raise awareness on environmental protection.

"We are what we eat. We can eat what we want. We give you another choice. That is my job. It is what we do. We give you a choice and your support is what keeps us going," Kibby wrote on his website.

Since 1990, the market for organic products in the world has grown rapidly, reaching 55 billion U.S. dollars in 2009, according to organic product promoter Organic Monitor.

This demand has driven a similar increase in organically managed farmland, which has grown over the years between 2001 and 2011 at a compounding annual rate of 8.9 percent.

As of 2011, approximately 91 million acres (37 million hectares) of land worldwide were farmed organically, representing roughly 0.9 percent of total world farmland in 2009, according to Organic Monitor.

Editor: Fu Peng
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