Six years ago, Susie Duff says she met the man she calls “Dr. Farmer,” sampled his produce, and it was love at first bite.
Now she’s the Malibu site coordinator for the Community Supported Agriculture program, through which local residents purchase shares in the weekly harvest from Steve Moore’s Carpinteria farm.
“You learn to eat locally and seasonally,” Duff said. “That’s everything about eating healthy.”
A step beyond organic, Moore’s farm has been certified Biodynamic by the Demeter Association since 1985. Biodynamic standards meet or exceed all organic farming standards. The fruits and vegetables, about 30 varieties, are grown without pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or chemical fertilizers.
Moore inherited the 60-acre family farm, where he had worked during high school and college, a coastal valley with an unusual east-west orientation that provides a unique micro-climate outstanding for agriculture.
“When I got back here in 1981, I came into a conventional system, full-on chemical production — all the herbicides, miticides and pesticides, many that are banned today,” he said. “The farm was very unhealthy.” Besides nematode problems, it was even showing up economically. “We had to change. We couldn’t support the chemical costs, and they were causing more problems than they were curing,” he said.
“It’s like substance abuse, it feeds on itself and pretty soon you need more, to increase the dose, then it becomes addicted to these things.” Moore says he had to nurture the farm through that process. Lemon and avocado trees were so densely planted that about half of them had to be removed in order to begin the rehabilitation process. “We started to introduce row crops to increase biodiversity,” he said. “That’s one of the natural consequences of Biodynamic farming.”
With a Ph.D. in civil engineering from UC Davis and a degree in counseling from JFK University, Moore was an associate professor at MIT. He says the decision to come back to the family farm was more of a lifestyle choice. “In retrospect, I realize I was drawn to things I wanted or needed to do, but I wasn’t aware of it at the time.”
Most agriculture is based on killing things, allowing only one crop to grow, Moore says. “You’re always swimming upstream that way. We always think of fostering life. We take all we can get of life. That’s manifested in the food, in better flavor, better shelf life.”
Duff says she thinks the increase in demand for organic produce stems from reports of studies linking disease to pesticide use. “There is a lot of fear involved.” But what really sells the produce is the taste. “Half of it never makes it to the cars,” Duff said. “My son, Jerry Wolf, can taste the difference between that lettuce and what we occasionally buy at the store to fill in.”
With each share box, Moore packs a copy of Harvest News Notes, which gives facts about what’s in the share box and includes recipes. “It’s fabulous. He gives you an alphabetized list with projected harvest amounts of each vegetable. For about $18 a week. You can pay ahead or any way. He’s very, very kind.”
Moore calls genetically engineered crops “technology run amuck. We’ve already seen genetically altered corn planted on millions of acres in this country, where pests have gotten started that are resistant to everything. In Europe, genetically altered crops have shown up in wild plants growing adjacent to the farms. It’s Terminator technology. It’s extremely critical in third-world countries. They get locked into buying seeds from Monsanto, but most of its varieties are designer seeds that only work on a high-tech system of agriculture. The total social implications are huge. They’re losing native agriculture and the crops that have traditionally sustained them.”
Although Moore says there’s no question that fresh fruits and vegetables are the foundation of a healthy diet, he’s not a vegetarian. “I also think there’s a place for animal protein, but there’s a line here that gets very muddy. As human beings, we feel closer to animals. Most people don’t go out and pet all the plants in their yard. So we run into a concern as to what it means when we eat meat. For some people that means not eating meat. For others, it’s a philosophical question. I feel swayed by it.”
Animal agriculture, however, is as abusive as conventional vegetable farming, says Moore, who raises a few animals for meat and a few chickens. “We grow the animals’ feed ourselves. The use of hormones and antibiotics in animal feed are finding their way into the human food supply. I think we’ve only seen the tip of that iceberg.”
Moore says he believes that some health problems in children are related to their diet. “Science is a narrow perspective. Maybe we should trust our instincts more,” he said.
Vegetables and fruits most likely to contain harmful chemical residue, labeled by the Center for Science in the Public Interest as “The Dirty Dozen,” include apples, peaches, pears, grapes, tomatoes, broccoli, spinach and strawberries. “I think it’s an accurate assessment,” Moore said. “We’re all consumers. We have to exercise our responsibility. I’m fortunate to grow most of my food, but CSA provides a way for people to know where their food is grown. I take more pride in what I do, knowing the people who are going to eat those carrots. We’re making the connection between the farmer and the people. Food is a wonderful bond.”
Moore says he thinks the recently announced moratorium on the ban of methyl bromide used on strawberries is unnecessary. “I think it’s an outrage. We grow strawberries without using methyl bromide. It’s a complete fallacy that methyl bromide is necessary.” Dependency on such chemicals comes from trying to grow thousands of acres of strawberries on one field. “That situation, monoculture, is antithetical to the natural life force.”
The farm has some orchard crops that produce more fruit than CSA customers can consume, and those, mostly lemons and avocados, are sold through organic wholesalers.
“Meeting the demand is the challenge of CSA production,” Moore says. “The grower and the consumer share the risk. They also buy into the times of abundance. If we were consistently short, we would lose customers.”
Duff, who now speaks at conventions explaining how CSA works, says the Malibu distribution site used to be her home. Now the shares are delivered to the Line Shack (the old Jammin’ Annie’s produce stand at PCH and Tonga near county line). The stand is now run by Robin Hanson, who says she has changed to almost 90 percent organic produce because the customers demand it.
Moore also delivers to CSA members in Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica, Woodland Hills, Topanga, Thousand Oaks, Northridge, Burbank, Pasadena, Ventura, Ojai and, of course, Carpinteria. The distribution schedule is weekly between April and December and every-other week from January to March. Members receive about 42 weekly shares for annual fee of $800 or $80 a month. The minimum enrollment is one month. Typically, a share contains 12 to 20 different fruits and vegetables in amounts sufficient to meet the requirements of a small family. In mid-season, a typical share would contain a bag of salad mix, spinach or chard, loose-leaf lettuce, carrots, radishes, onions, broccoli, green beans, summer squash, corn, tomatoes, lemons, an avocado and one or two baskets of strawberries.
Duff says it goes beyond the quality of the food. “You have an attachment to the farm, so children are aware of all the things that affect their farmer.
“Growing up as a Catholic, I learned change is glacial,” she said. “But now we have about 14 families in Malibu who are saying no to factory farming. We have this instead.”
More information on Community Supported Agriculture is available on the Web at http://www.mooreranch.com