Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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June 9, 2013

Organic farming grows

Producers take advantage of demand for local, fresh food

— Carol Roberts’ father was a traditional industrial farmer in Howard County for 39 years. Like most row-crop operations, he sprayed pesticides, herbicides and other high-potency chemicals on his fields to kill bugs and keep weeds at bay.

Then he was diagnosed with liver cancer, and that changed everything.

“After getting cancer, he started thinking, ‘We need to do a better job of safely growing produce,’” Roberts said.

She said she believes her father’s cancer likely was caused by his daily exposure to farming chemicals, and he decided to start growing food without using potentially hazardous sprays.

So he went organic.

“I didn’t like it when he was messing around with all those chemicals in the fields, but he had to,” Roberts said. “That was his livelihood. I’m just glad he started researching it and decided to grow organic.”

That’s a decision more and more local farmers and gardeners are making in the county and across the country as consumers seek healthier, more nutritious food.

As of 2011, organic products accounted for a little more than 4 percent of all U.S. food sales, according to a national study.

That’s a relatively small figure, but consider this: The organic food sector grew by $2.5 billion during 2011, and it keeps growing.

To meet the demand for local, chemical-free produce, more and more organic farms are sprouting up all across the U.S. and around Kokomo.

In 2011, the number of certified organic farms, ranches and processing facilities totaled more than 17,000 nationally — a 240 percent increase since 2002.

“In Kokomo, I think we’ve got a strong movement here towards organic, and a great group of people providing local produce,” said Mandy Wright-Jarrett, who oversees the Kokomo Farmers’ Market. “People aren’t looking for the best deal anymore. They’re looking for quality.”

With more consumers buying organic food, there’s money to be made from going green. But for local organic farmers, it’s not just about the money.

For them, it’s about something bigger.

Eating Well

Jay Martin said he was stunned when his doctor told him he had high blood pressure. He exercised all the time, and made it a point to stay in shape.

To get his blood pressure under control, Martin started taking prescription drugs, but he didn’t like some of the side effects of the pills.

He decided to start an investigation to get to the root of the issue.

“Against the advice of my doctor, I decided to go on a crusade to find out why this was happening,” he said.

That ultimately led Martin to take a closer look at what he was eating.

He made this conclusion: “If it has a list of ingredients that I don’t understand, then I’m not eating it,” he said.

So Martin and his wife, Gena, decided to start an organic garden and begin raising grass-fed cattle without the use of any hormones, antibiotics or steroids.

Last year, they founded EarthPros LLC and started selling beef and produce from their 30-acre farm about 16 miles west of Kokomo.

“We’d been growing for ourselves for years, so we decided since we liked doing it so much, we might as well try to make a business out of it,” Gena said.

Now, the two have more than 30 regular customers who buy beef, chicken, eggs and produce from the farm.

Ask just about any organic farmer why they do what they do, and they’ll say the same thing: It’s about knowing what’s in your food and staying healthy.

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