Dave Chapman knows tomatoes. Since 1984, he’s been growing them in Vermont at Long Wind Farm, perfecting his use of greenhouses to extend the season from as early as March to as late as December. So he’s enthusiastic about taking measures to make tomato growing as productive as possible for as long as possible. Even while adhering to old-school principles as a lifelong organic farmer, Chapman is used to pushing boundaries.
But about a decade ago, Chapman saw tomatoes at a regional produce warehouse that confounded him. “They were beautiful, perfect-looking, very mediocre-tasting, and very inexpensive,” he remembers. “I thought, who is growing all of these beautiful, perfectly formed, tasteless tomatoes and selling them at such a low price? How can they afford to do that?”
So Chapman did a little research and learned that hydroponic farming – growing crops in water rather than soil and adding fertility to the water – was permissible under the organic certification standards of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “I was shocked,” Chapman says. “How can this be?”
A little research turned into a lot of research. Chapman’s political curiosity took a turn into political advocacy. He found himself unraveling the organic standards, established under the advice of the National Organic Standards Board, a 15-member group of people appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture who volunteer to serve five-year terms. Their direction guides the evolution of the National Organic Program, which defines the standards by which food in the U.S. can be labeled as “organic.” It’s a structure that was established in 1990 by the Organic Foods Production Act.
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