There’s a fascinating profile on our fruit farmer in NY Magazine. I’ve never met Amy Hepworth, but I’d love too… she sounds like quite a character! In addition to describing how Amy and her partner took over the farm after her father left, the article also gives a great example of Hepworth’s techniques for “minimal treatment”, which I know has been a common question from many of our members.
Surprisingly, not everything that comes from her farm is organic. Her reservations about the “organic” label are not just semantic—many nonconformist farmers think the word has lost its alternative resonance—but scientific. She does not take an absolutist’s position on chemicals, for instance, arguing that today’s “gentle” synthetics are unlike pesticides of the DDT days, when growers sprayed willy-nilly any “shit that worked.” Hepworth chooses how to grow based on what’s best for the soil. In many instances, the best option is organic, but in others, it’s not. In her view, it’s sometimes better to use a small amount of something synthetic than a huge amount of something natural.
Consider a disease called apple scab. “One organic control is five pounds of sulfur per acre every time it rains,” Hepworth explains. “Twelve to sixteen times a year.” Sulfur kills other things, not just apple scab. It can also coat apples with residue, and, when she was using it, Hepworth suspected that it harmed her earthworm population. She switched to a synthetic, noncarcinogenic fungicide that treats apple scab specifically. “It does the job in small amounts,” she says. “Six ounces per acre. I used it three or four times last year.”