Full Moon Farm, Vermont
Rachel Nevitt and David Zuckerman own and operate Full Moon Farm in Vermont, where they grow a delicious variety of produce, including melons, sweet corn, and heirloom tomatoes. When David isn’t farming, he’s representing the state of Vermont as Lieutenant Governor. In a rally in Thetford, Vermont, David announced, “Organic without soil is like democracy without people.”
Know Your Farmer | Full Moon Farm, Vermont
David Zuckerman: I’m David Zuckerman with Full Moon Farm along with Rachel Nevitt. We started the farm in ’99, and Rachel became a part of it in 2000, and we’ve grown the farm from a couple acres to about 15 to 20 acres of production, and added pigs, chickens (layers and meat birds) and a summer camp. I’m also Lieutenant Governor of Vermont.
Going Back to the Original Organic
Rachel Nevitt: The reason why we choose to be involved and want to be involved with the Real Organic Project is because the organic movement has, for a while, needed some changes in the opposite direction that the changes have been happening. At the federal level, these changes had been coming from large ag that sees the value in the monetary benefit of the word “organic.” But they don’t believe or seem to care about the real intention behind organic and sticking to the practices that make something organic.
So, they use their money and influence in Washington to change what the standard means. And it has diverted from its original intention, and we want to go back. Back to the original intention of really taking care of this planet and creating food that’s healthy for us to eat.
DZ: Yeah, I would say to me, the Real Organic Project is about the integrity of the term organic. As customers learn more and more that there are 20,000-cow CAFO “organic dairy farms” or they hear that there’s organic food grown without soil, and they might get sold as “less energy” or “less dense” or “less fat.” But in the long run, they have to extract everything you put into that water to make hydroponic things grow. If we lose consumer confidence in the term organic, then we lose the ability to raise food in a holistic way because economically, we won’t be able to survive. Real Organic Project is about rebuilding the integrity to the name that makes it so that people can farm and sustain themselves both nutritionally, and economically which is sort of a critical combination.
RN: We really do need consumer confidence back. I hear it a lot from people that “What does that really mean anyway?” And they found some product that, you know, wasn’t really organic. Clearly it’s large ag. So, they know that the USDA standard has been watered down and that makes people lose faith in their regular local farmers, and we want to give them the ability to get that faith back.
Educating Customers About Their Food
DZ: We raise between 15 and 20 acres of vegetables. I’d say the highlights are our stemless, clean spinach, melons (cantaloupe and watermelons). We sell a lot sweet corn because we have the acreage to grow it. A lot of organic farms and even non-organic farms don’t grow a whole lot of sweet corn because of acreage issues. Tomatoes. Rachel’s tomatoes are just phenomenal. We grow almost exclusively heirloom tomatoes, and you don’t get as many to fruition. But the flavor just knocks every other hybrid tomato off the shelf.
RN: We are almost 100% direct marketing (CSA and farmer’s market). I think a big part of our farm is the educational process. People really appreciate having us at market and CSA pickup to talk to us. They can go anywhere and get a tomato in Vermont. I mean, there is lot of health food stores, co-ops, and whatever. But they appreciate having the farmer there so that they can say, “what tomato would you recommend?” “Why is this tomato black?” “Does that mean, it’s rotten?”
Our customers also just like hearing about the challenges. Years ago, we were at our CSA pickup, and it was about 98 degrees and had been for a few days and a member showed up at pickup and they’re like, “Hey, yeah, what do you guys do on the days that are hot like this?” “Uhmm, we work, we grow food!”
They were like, “no, no, no seriously, like you don’t stay outside in this and work?”
We were like “you see the food we brought for you? This is what we do! This is the job.”
DZ: And then also people do talk to both of us markets and CSA about the bigger picture about food production. We’re pretty outspoken about what organic means to us, what the industrial organic situation is with a lot of foods, not really meeting the holistic intent and the values intent of what the original organic farmers. We don’t consider ourselves “original farmers,” but we are in the same vein of value as farmers with respect to the new conversations, whether it’s hydroponics, soil health, animal husbandry practices that are being allowed to be certified with certain certifiers.
There are certain certifiers that are really questionable. VOF is great, but some of the big international certifiers are pretty questionable.
What Does Organic Mean?
DZ: Organic means a number of things to me. First and foremost, it’s keeping our soil healthy and actually building it so it’s healthier for the next generation, whether it’s our own child or whether it’s the next person that is going to farm the land. It also means not poisoning the water or poisoning the ground with synthetic herbicides pesticides, fertilizers. The idea is to leave it better than you find it. And if you’re building the soil and your soil is healthy, then you’re going to be growing healthier food, which also means your customers and the people eating it are going to be healthier.
I mean, the old adage, “you are what you eat.” You look at the food that most people eat in this country, and they think nothing of it, because government says, “it’s fine.” And you’re getting your ratios and whatever. But the actual nutritional value, the diversity of health in that food, the variety of nutrients in that food, are just not really there in the way that I believe they are with organically grown food.
RN: For me, organic is the only kind of food there is. When people tell me that they’re eating and I say, “what are you eating?” And I go, “that’s not, that’s not food. It’s not safe to put in your body.” And when people complain about the cost of organic. And I look at them, and I say, “what’s the cost of treating cancer?” If you’re putting food in your body treated with chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, that adds up in your body. It’s there, it accumulates, and then you feed it sugar. And it’s off to something that you don’t want to have in there.
DZ: And we’ve been doing it to the planet. Right now, the planet is sick. Climate crisis is the sickness of small individual additions, day in and day out, of carbon dioxide. Well, one little breath of carbon dioxide or one heating of a stove or one running of a car doesn’t do it, but it’s the cumulative effect.
If you’re eating food that’s got all these chemicals on it that they say is “fine to eat. It doesn’t hurt you.” But people eat this kind of food day in and day out, day in and day out. And you wonder why we have higher cancer rates than a lot of other countries; you wonder why we have all these kids with ADHD and all these challenges. Well, what are we eating? What are you drinking? what are we putting into our into our souls, which are our bodies? That’s all part of the equation.
Balancing Politics and Farming
Linley Dixon: How do you do it all?
DZ: Well, how I’m able to do it because of Rachel and crew. And I do think that they’re related. Both jobs have interesting overlaps and extreme differences. One of the overlaps is that in farming, you start seeds you build the soil. You water. And it’s a long process to reach the fruits of your labor. And in politics, sometimes you talk about an idea and you have to sew the idea, you have to talk with a lot of people, you have to help foster that idea. Sometimes it takes 5, to get something to fruition. So maybe you are more like a tree farmer than a vegetable farmer. But at the same time, you can have sudden events that change everything. You can have a massive rain wind or storm of some sort that’s going to really impact your crops, and you’ve got to adjust. And in politics, you can have a sudden event change the dynamic, and you have to ultimately, sometimes change what direction you’re going on a policy or take an opportunity to put a policy into place. So both are long investments to reach the reward of the product.