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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Get a Close-Up View of Organic Farming at Expo East

Produce Perspectives

Are you coming to Natural Products Expo East? I hope so! Washington should be gorgeous this fall, and there will be plenty to do and see. Along with the usual reasons to enjoy the show—checking out new products and seeing old friends—several events make this year's Expo East especially compelling. Jeremy Rifkin's keynote presentation promises to be inspiring and riveting. I heard him speak several years ago at the Ecological Farming Conference, and his message remains important to me. Don't miss it.

Our new federal organic rule will also be implemented this month. If you haven't done some training—or even if you have—there will be a Good Organic Retailing Practices seminar at Expo. Take advantage of it. Either way, the show will give us all a chance to say a hardy thank you to past and present members of the National Organic Standards Board for their tireless work to maintain organic integrity and to all those involved in the National Organic Program for bringing organic standards to fruition.

Because Expo East is so close to Capitol Hill, Organic Trade Association members will have the chance to meet with their elected representatives to tell them how they feel about industry-related issues. We'll also be honoring some special people and celebrating with friends at the Spirit of Organic dinner Thursday evening at the U.S. Botanic Garden.

Did you read the updated SPINS growth trends in August's NFM? Organic produce sales grew 47 percent last year. It appears what we've been preaching for years—that organic is a better choice for the planet as well as for consumers—is attracting an increasing number of converts. We knew it was only a matter of time, didn't we?

That brings us to where all organic products begin: the farm.

It appears what we've been preaching for years is attracting an increasing number of converts.
Once you've attended seminars, talked until you're hoarse, sampled until you're full and haggled for deals, take a break and tour Summer Creek Farms with me Saturday from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. We'll be joining Rick Hood on his 26-acre organic farm in the rolling countryside near Thurmont, Md. Most people would pay just to see the lovely autumn foliage, so this year's tour is sure to be a treat.

Hood has been farming Summer Creek for 10 years, the last four as a certified organic producer. He grows potatoes, cherry tomatoes, beans, turnips, peas, winter squash and late-harvested zucchini, plus organic hay and grains for horses, cattle and chicken.

Hood farms nearly year round at Summer Creek. That wouldn't be a big deal if he were growing in California's San Joaquin Valley, but this is Maryland. Each year he starts planting in February and finishes harvesting broccoli in December. How does he do it? A 21-foot wide by 96-foot long, tunnel-hoop greenhouse allows Hood to plant earlier and harvest later. The greenhouse isn't insulated or heated, and it doesn't have raised beds. But it gets enough warmth from the sun to allow him to plant directly into the soil and lengthen production. Heck, high-mountain gardeners from Colorado should come along just to see how he pulls this off.

Hood, who served three years as president of the local Frederick, Md., Farmers Market, sells his vegetables there and to Dan Blackmore, produce manager for Common Market, a local natural foods store. The bulk of Hood's sales, however, come from being part of the Maryland Certified Organic Growers Association, a 13-farm, community-supported agriculture cooperative of which he is past president.

Hood pulls it all off with the help of his two teenage sons, who work with him four hours a week. He's one busy guy—planting, growing, marketing and serving as past president of two different farming associations. And here's the best part: farming is only his part-time job; Hood works full time in the electronics industry.

Want to meet Rick Hood and see how he makes it work? Then join me for a trip to the eastern foothills of Catoctin Mountain Park. We'll know we've arrived when we see the walnut, hickory, cherry and elm hardwood trees Hood planted as habitat and wind break.

I'll have you back in plenty of time for the Saturday evening festivities. I look forward to seeing you.

Mark Mulcahy runs an organic education and produce consulting firm. He can be reached at 707.939.8355, or by e-mail at

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 10/p. 20

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