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Organic Farmers Connect Local Communities to Traditional Produce

By Tracy Robillard, NRCS Public Affairs Specialist
 

Ganesh and Lakshmi proudly stand on their half-acre organic vegetable farm called Edible Stories. Photo: Tracy Robillard.

Ganesh and Lakshmi proudly stand on their half-acre organic vegetable farm called Edible Stories. Photo: Tracy Robillard.

: A seasonal high tunnel installed with financial assistance from NRCS. Photo: Tracy Robillard.
A seasonal high tunnel installed with financial assistance from NRCS. Photo: Tracy Robillard

March 20, 2017 - Ganesh Balamurugan and Lakshmi Tata have always enjoyed backyard gardening, planting vegetables and flowers in the yard of their suburban home. But just a few years ago, they purchased a home outside of town and established a half-acre organic vegetable farm called Edible Stories. Ganesh and Lakshmi sell most of their produce to a local Indian grocery store and to families signed up for their mailing list, much like pay-as-you-go Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

They grow a wide variety of vegetables used in traditional Indian cooking like fenugreek, amaranth greens, roselle, sorrel, yard-long beans and several varieties of edible gourds—just to name a few.

“A lot of plants people might think of as weeds, like purslane and lambs quarters, are nutritious edibles in the Indian culture,” Ganesh said. “We enjoy growing foods that connect us with where we came from. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well-adapted many of these plants are to our Pacific Northwest climate.”

While they already use organic farming practices, Ganesh and Lakshmi work with their local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office to apply conservation practices on their farm that prepare their land for organic farming certification with the USDA.

“Organic farming just makes sense,” Lakshmi said. “We are putting this food into our bodies, so we want it to be free from chemicals.” NRCS provides Ganesh and Lakshmi with science-based technical support and financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Organic Initiative.

Last year, there was a rise in U.S. certified organic operations by nearly 12 percent, which is more than double the increase in 2014. And issues of access to healthy, affordable foods in local communities are rampant. Through the Organic Initiative, NRCS supports these communities by helping private landowners engage in the new organic food culture and providing access to healthy, traditional foods that are affordable, within local communities.

NRCS helps Ganesh and Lakshmi implement conservation practices, such as planting cover crops and removing invasive brush like blackberry and scotch broom. Ganesh said the biggest benefit of planting cover crops on the farm is weed management. “With the cover crop, tougher weeds, especially grasses, are set back and it’s easier to manage the beds,” he said. “We’ve also found that we can start spring planting earlier in beds with overwintered cover crops. We just pull out the cover crop by hand and plant. The cover crops also keep the soil in our sloped garden from eroding,” Lakshmi added.

Additionally, this year Ganesh and Lakshmi installed a 24-by-95-foot high tunnel with financial assistance from NRCS, through its EQIP Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative. “We wouldn’t have got a quality high tunnel this big or this early without support from NRCS,” Ganesh said. “It’s very hard to justify an investment like this without the assistance.”