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Two days a week*, customer's swarm Jessica's Stand...

Daily Planet, Sarasota Edition, March 20-26, 2002

In one of Sarasota's uneventful subdivisions, across the street from Crystal Lakes golf course, is an incongruous sight: DeSoto Lakes Organics farm. * Two days a week, customers swarm Jessica's Stand, the farm's on-location retail outlet. The attraction: fresh out of the ground, certified organically grown produce.

Certified organic is a strange but meaningful designation. According to the Organic Trade Association and recently the USDA, it means no toxic synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, irradiation, sewage sludge and genetic engineering. ...Bill Pischer owns this uncommon 5-acre farm and operates it with the help of his wife, Pam, daughter Jessica and several employees.....Pischer says the important story is not about his farm, but "the future of agriculture in Central Florida in the midst of all of this growth." He adds, "People coming here are going to want fresh produce, and this kind of small farm is compatible with new growth and needs to be encouraged," that is, by city and county planners, developers, agricultural politics and investors.

Maybe Pischer is correct when you consider that organic farms have shown to be a productive, efficient and ecologically sensitive use of open space. Organic practices regenerate soil nutrients and conserve energy and water via the use of biomass, drip irrigation and recycling of waste. They discourage pests and weeds, not through chemical treatment but through strategic crop placement and constant rotations and the deployment of soil regenerative mulch, compost and cover crops during fallow periods. Pesticides, herbicides and genetic manipulations are all prohibited. The practice preserves rivers, streams and aquifers -- the whole water supply; indeed, these farms banish the drift of toxins into the soil, air and ecological food chain for three years before they can be certified as organic.

Moreover, organic agriculture is labor intensive; it requires a diversity of skills and thus frequently results in solid, well-paying jobs. For example, DeSoto Lakes employs two carpenters and six field workers who learn such skills as how to cultivate nursery starter plants in a greenhouse; they learn about tilling, irrigation, dispatch, field installation and harvest. The hands-on nature of organic food production often results in the so-called "organic premium," which means higher retail prices, depending, in part, on where you shop.

* Jessica's is now open three days a week, Friday 8-6, Saturday & Sunday 8-5.

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