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Organic Farmer speaks in DeKalb

Organic Farmer speaks at a meeting of the Sierra Club about his experiences in farming organic and why it is better for our planet and our lives.
Organic Farmer Joel Rissman spoke to the DeKalb chapter of the Sierra Club on the Northern Illinois University campus Thursday evening, Nov. 21st. He stewards the 300 acres of Rissman Organic Farm outside the small town of Waterman, Ill, population; 1000.
After graduating from the University of Illinois in 1991 with a bachelors degree in Agricultural Engineering, Rissman farmed conventionally for only two years before he realized that conventional farming was not lucrative and the hours were burning him out. When a neighbor showed him an Acres newspaper, he made the realization to go organic or to get out. Three years later in 1996 the farm was certified organic, having not lost any money during the transition, he points out.
Since then, Rissman Organic Farm has focused on direct sales to consumers who visit the farm during the week. "But not on Sunday", Mr. Rissman said, "that is our family day". Once a week the family leaves early in the morning to make the trek to Chicago's Green City Market, held every Wednesday from 7:30 to 1:30 p.m. til the end of October. There are also two restaurants in Evanston that have found favor with Rissman products, Campagnola and the Bistro Campagne.
Countering most people's perceptions of organic farming, three of the Rissman Farm specialties include Beef, Chicken and Turkey in addition to small grains and Tofu soybeans. Those that haven't taken the vegetarian plunge thus have an option in eating meat that has not been injected with growth hormones, anti-biotics or other chemicals. Avoiding confinement buildings and using a good supply of organic grains keeps the animals healthy. Rissman declared that he has never lost an animal to sickness through farming organically whereas with conventional methods he did.
Mr. Rissman also countered another popular perception of organics; that it is expensive, too expensive. On the level of making a living farming organically, he pointed out that it is much more lucrative and sustainable. Though it takes more stewardship than conventional farming, the yields are close to or better than involving such things as chemical fertilizer. But most importantly, people want it. It tastes better, and people are realizing that it's better for their bodies. His family, Mr. Rissman said, hardly see a doctor. They are getting the variety of minerals and vitamins that are replaced in the earth through such techniques as composting and fertilizer from the farm animals. When conventional farmers fertilize with chemicals they do not replace trace minerals and other elements that only Mother Nature seems capable of creating in their complexity.
Mr. Rissman also gave us a factoid related to the usage of Nitrogen as a fertilizer. The amount of Nitrogen used in the U.S., he said, utilizes enough propane to heat 20 million homes. Related to our consumption of oil, he also mentioned that the average meal has traveled 1500 miles. Thus the many benefits of buying local organics can be seen, particularly at this time of war in Iraq. While Mr. Rissman did not say it directly, I could easily draw the connections that refusing to consume conventionally grown food is an act of taking power back from the war machine and the multi-national companies that have taken over our government. I think what's nicest about organic agriculture, whether you buy it weekly from a farmer's market, a co-op, or best of all to grow your own, is that in a world of doom and gloom it is something you can say yes to. It is a solution. Even in urban centers there has been a revolution, whether it's taking over an empty lot, growing out of buckets on your roof or proclaiming "Food not Lawns". Let the government watch credit card transactions on their new computer- anyone want to trade bread for canned tomatoes? Let the price of oil sky rocket- we'll bring our vegetables to our market on bicycle. Another world is possible!



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