The only sustainable and organic agriculture coordinator in the UC Cooperative Extension system, Steven Quirt of the Marin County office, is an informative source for media covering local agriculture. That proved true again this week when Quirt was quoted extensively in a Marin Independent Journal story that opened seasonably with a vignette about organic turkey.
By the second paragraph, the story became more of a trend piece on the growth of organic agriculture in the swanky, yet earthy Northern California locale. According to the article, the amount of Marin County land in organic production has increased 6,000 percent since 1999 to 24,176 acres. (Doing the math, that means organic acreage in 1999 was about 400.)
Regardless of the exponential growth, organic farming in Marin remains less a big business than a way for the county's small farmers to compete with the state's industrialized agriculture industry, according to the story.
"In the Central Valley, the big guys with 2,000 to 10,000 cows can produce milk a lot cheaper," the article quoted Quirt. "On a small farm - the average herd size in Marin and Sonoma is 350 (cows) - it makes sense to look at organic options."
Interest in organic farming rose dramatically among Marin's dairies in 2005, Quirt told reporter Rob Rogers, when the price of conventional milk plummeted while organic milk prices remained stable.
"Dairies were being paid $11 to $12 per hundredweight for milk that would cost them $16 to produce," Quirt was quoted. "The price for organic milk was around $26 a hundredweight, and it stayed up there. A lot of dairies made the switch first on economic grounds, and came on board philosophically after that."
However, the story concluded with a somber note about the high value of organic products. The organic premium helps sustain farmers, but is often too pricey for lower income consumers.
"Local, responsible organic food production is expensive, and what it's causing nationally is a dual food system," Quirt was quoted. "Those of us who can afford to be careful about what we buy and eat will pay more. I'm going to get in trouble for saying this, but it's creating an elitist food system."