From the Field to the Table — The Journey of an Organically Grown Salad —
I have always scoffed at the relatively high retail costs of organic produce in the USA. But this was before I began working on an organic farm in Maine.
Before this experience, I had no idea how labor/ time intensive organic farming methods are. It seems as if this sort of farming is a colossal hark back to the days when men and women toiled in fields under hoe, weeding by hand, planted crops by squatting down and sticking them one by one into the earth, and doing just about everything without the noxious aid of any semblance of modern devices.
On a modern organic farm, man is again the machine; the beast of burden is yours truly. Physical, brute, by-hand labor is what puts the seeds in the fields, it is that which raises those seeds to planthood, and it is still that which retrieves the food once it has grown.
The Journey of a Salad: From the Field to the Table
Compost is continually collected and put into a large pile on an organic farm. This is the mother load of nutrition for the crops and for the soil. It is added to all the fields at the beginning of the farming season. The compost is collected and turned manually, though it is my impression that it is spread in the fields with a small tractor.
The salad — in this case mixed greens (i.e. mesclun, mustard greens, dandelion greens, and a few other greens) starts out as seeds placed in seed blocks: plastic containers. These seed blocks are then put into a greenhouse to grow into seedlings.
Once they grow into seedlings they are transplanted by hand into the fields. Sometimes hundreds of seedlings are transplanted in a day. In a long afternoon, I once helped plant by hand over a thousand small corn stalks.
The cultivator is one of the hand tools that we use to weed the fields
The fields are continuously maintained and weeded by hand and with hoes, cultivators, and roto tillers throughout the growing season.
Each leaf of the mustard is plucked by hand. Literally, pounds of these leaves are picked by hand every morning on The Farm
When ready, the greens are picked by hand. The mesclun is cut bunch by bunch with a small knife. The mustard and other greens are plucked by hand — leaf by leaf. All of the freshly picked leaves are put into boxes and carried from the fields to the barn.
The salad greens then go through a double washing in two tubs in order to remove any soil, weeds, insects, or anything else that does not belong. This is all done by hand.
After being washed, the salad greens go through a tumbler in order to dry them a little. They are then re-boxed by hand and loaded onto a pickup truck. The truck then drives them out to organic retail outlets, restaurants, and farmer’s markets to be sold the same day they were picked from the fields.
The salad is then sold for approx. $10 a pound.
With the amount of labor that goes into commercial organic farming, the profit margin is sometimes difficult to grasp. No longer can I gasp with disgust at the price of organic produce, for I now know that nearly every dollar that goes into purchasing these organic products is put directly back into their production. From my experience of working on an organic farm in Maine, I must proclaim that it is not the farmers who are banking great amounts of cash off of the recent organic-everything boom in the USA.
It is safe to say that $10 a pound for a bag of salad greens is just about the amount of money needed to produce them.
Box of organic lettuce picked fresh from the field
Organic farming methods are highly labor intensive.
Vagabond Journey on organic farming in Maine