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Ponder the pepper

Pepper as big as my head, Talley Farm

Another Earth Day has come and gone, and with it the release of a new "Dirty Dozen" list from the Environmental Work Group. Each year, the EWG analyzes the USDA's redisual pesticide tests, and generates a list of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables most likely to have significant amounts of residues on them. They conversely add on a "Clean 15" outlining those that are least likely to have resides. 

It's an imperfect report, and has been criticized for opacity in its methodology. A UC Davis professor published a paper in the Journal of Toxicology casting aspersions on the EWG's methods, and claiming that the risks of consuming conventional produce are no greater than organic. 

The question of conventional versus organic has become more confusing than ever. Consumers are led to believe that organic means free of pesticides and chemicals, but anyone who's read The Omnivore's Dilemma knows differently (disclosure: Amazon affiliate link). In fact, today capital-O Organic is a highly industrialized and regulated industry, and any perceived benefits in health to yourself or the planet may be false.

That said, I do believe that we should be entitled to knowing when our food has been exposed to pesticides, just as I believe we should know when we are consuming genetically modified (GMO) foods. I'm no scientist, and I make no claims that any food is inherently good or bad, but I do believe we should be allowed to make our own choices based on the greatest amount of information available. 

So what's an eater to do?

Last year we were invited to San Luis Obispo along with a few other bloggers to visit some farms. This initiative, dubbed Know a California Farmer, is an effort on the part of Ad Farm, a PR and marketing group whose mission it is to create more awareness and exposure for farmers. 

I was skeptical when I first received the invitation, expecting a slanted display of big-ag farms hawking the safety of their chemicals. But that's not what we got. 

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Misty Meadows Farm

Meet Ralph and Kathy Packard.

Ralph and Kathy run the Misty Meadows Farm in Payneville, KY, about 50 miles southwest of Louisville. They grow “everything but okra” on their bucolic 28-acre parcel of land; on our visit, broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and blackberries were just beginning to come up. Heavy rains delayed the start of their planting season, and only now in late May are they getting a start in earnest on their crops.

Roosters cockily patrolled the chicken coop. Happy, inquisitive pigs came up to us in the barn to check us out. The two most recent were born on inauguration day, a male and a female inevitably named Barack and Michelle. The pigs come in black, red (with hair that shines fiery like copper filament in the sun) and one spotted pig that instantly became my favorite. Cattle are kept at a nearby Mennonite farm. The Packards’ two dogs, Maggie and Timmy, keep watch over it all.


Misty Meadows has the longest-running CSA in the state of Kentucky (ten years strong); started the local farmer’s market in nearby Brandenburg, KY; and were among the first farms to do organic gardening in the state (albeit not certified). As well as their produce, they sell farm-fresh eggs, various cuts of pork, beef and lamb, and homemade sausages including chorizo, sweet and hot Italian, and Kentucky-style breakfast links, redolent with sage. Their efforts have stood in defiance of the indefatigable encroachment of corporate and fast food that has all but crushed any semblance of local, indigenous foodways in this part of the country and others. It’s a glimmer of hope of a food renaissance, a return to the old ways of raising and eating honest food.

But their way of farming is at risk.

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