Farming Competitions Should Reward Sustainability


I admit it – I’m smitten with the 28 ribbons and $103 in prize money I won for my veggies at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair this week.  Make no mistake – for me, it’s not about winning (…if you ain’t first, you’re last Ricky Bobby…) as much as it is about my little organic vegetables taking on and beating out some serious Monsanto zombie veggies.

I gaped in awe at the monsters on display when I arrived at the fair to drop off my entries.  Several competitors were actively strutting the room inspecting the competition while fanning buzz about their entries.  After immediately being accused of being a commercial grower (and therefore not eligible for competition), it was explained to me that some regulars plan all year long to win, win, win.  “What that Old Hen wouldn’t do to make sure they have the best squash,” the administrator said in a matter-of-fact manner as she tilted her head toward my attacker’s posse.

What wouldn’t they do?

I winced in amazement as softball-sized tomatoes – the most perfect, biggest, reddest five pounders I’ve ever seen – were gingerly lifted from a box.  “Wooo…Niiiice tomatoeees,” I blurted, completely devoid of verbal control.  “Thanks, I don’t know what happened…the plant produced a dozen of them and then just quit for some reason….”

Oh shit, Miracle-Gro?  Hydroponics?  My little veggies are totally going to get their butts kicked.

It started to sink in:  a hundred or so categories for vegetables of all types, but only five slots devoted to organics.  Only five?  I thought the farmers of Sonoma were green, progressive, sustainable, idealistic…?  Wait.  I looked back at the Tomato Man and squinted to recognize him as a winegrower who is infamous for spraying his grape vines with so much chemical and with such frequency that his farming practices are said to be just plain unsustainable.  A strange slimy sludge moat slides along the road on the edge of one of his fields.  They call him DuPont Don*.

Sheesh, what an asshole.

As I left the Kraft Exhibition Hall an Administrator reminded me that I could pick up my veggies, ribbons and prize money on Monday morning.  “Let’s not get crazy, I’m not so sure about that ribbon part.”  So, imagine if you will, how Monday morning’s 28 ribbons brought a win for the idealists, and an ode to organics, and a triumph for terroir.  While this year’s competition ended on a high note, my experience at the fair seemed to make the point of Mark Bittman’s New York Times article “Everyone Eats There”:

If we want a system of farming that’s sustainable on all levels, we have to think about a national food and farming policy.  And as I was looking out at Buxman’s amazing land, it occurred to me just how amazing it is that we don’t have one.

County Fairs, 4-H, other competitions where new generations are learning about growing food are not necessarily encouraging or rewarding participants for thinking about sustainability.  I guess the messages of trendy documentaries about the nation’s food supply have not quite reached the audiences actually growing the food quite yet.  And perhaps only rooftop gardeners in Brooklyn are getting the trickle down on the sustainability messages of the New York Times.  Somehow I think the Department of Terroir Security will have to take up the grassroots side of farming policy by sponsoring expanded categories for next year’s Harvest Fair here in Sonoma.

In his article, Bitterman asks “Do we have a right to expect tomatoes that taste like tomatoes and to have them grown sustainably?”  I don’t really know what he means in asking this question, but let us always be reminded that one dollar equals one vote here in the US of A.

Afterword:  I am also pleased to report that on October 9, 2012 (the day after I picked up my ribbons) the vineyard on which I live and garden was officially certified by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance as a sustainable vineyard operation.  Many congratulations to the Pastericks. 



WINE NOTE:  None.  I wouldn’t touch your toxic wine after watching it being drenched with chemicals from my front porch.  Furthermore, that last bottle of wine I had from your winery was ridden with Brettanomyces.  Thanks for nothing.

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