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Organic farming — a growing trend
Bucking the traditional stereotypes
Organic produce is no longer just for Birkenstock-donning, flannel shirt-wearing, long-haired hippies from San Francisco.
That stereotype is long gone.
What isn’t gone — and doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon — is a burgeoning group of consumers throughout the world who desire fresh fruits and vegetables that are free of synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
John France, a local farmer and businessman, is one of many who has answered consumers’ call for these crops, which can be labeled and sold as “organic” only if they meet certain federal regulations and criteria.
France, a certified grower of organic crops since 1989, is the president of Porterville-based Homegrown Organic Farms, which markets and sells 15 different organic commodities for 45 farmers throughout California and Oregon.
Last year, Homegrown administered the sale of more than 1 million cartons of organic produce for its growers. The company’s cold storage and main distribution center, from which the organic goods are shipped nationwide and to Canada, is located in the small Kern County town of Arvin.
“There’s not a market in the world that I can’t access,” said France, whose own ranch, which is managed by Strathmore-based farm agriculture management company Agricare, is home to about 650 total acres of organic citrus, grapes, walnuts and blueberries in southern Tulare and Kern counties.
For France and other organic producers, the markets are certainly there. The only potential obstacle is one of logistics.
Unlike conventional farmers, organic growers don’t apply post-harvest fungicides to their produce. These fungicides, in some years, can drastically extend the shelf life of some fruits and vegetables.
So France said he and his organic brethren “have to be on top of [their] game,” making doubly sure that the crops are picked, packed and sold when the time is absolutely right. If not, the growers could suffer badly by losing out on adequate returns for their commodities.
“We can’t just park stuff in a cold storage,” France said. “We have to know what’s in the cooler, how old it is, the condition of the fruit and when it comes out.”
In this way and others, organic farming is different from conventional farming.
Organic producers have to grow organically for three years before they can become certified by federally accredited California Certified Organic Farmers. Their handling costs are higher, and they have to be more “proactive” rather than “reactive” to make sure certain problems — ones that would be handled by traditional farmers with pesticides or other chemicals — don’t arise in the first place.
In a lot of ways, though, organic farmers are the same as their big brothers on the conventional side.
Organic producers, just like traditional growers, have to keep their yields as high as possible. They have to know soils and climates, too. Most importantly, they have to deliver a quality product that consumers want.
“If you’re not prepared and don’t know what you’re doing,” France said, “you can get upside down really quick.”
But France hasn’t gone upside down — not even close. That’s because he’s made the proper investments, he’s developed a solid business model and he’s immersed himself in a market that seems to be growing by the day.
“You have to be willing to spend money to make money, just like in any business,” he said.
Contact Alex K.W. Schultz at 784-5000, Ext. 1050 or email@example.com.
Follow him on Twitter @AlexKWSchultz.