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Cornell University Organic Research Site

Organic farming goes on display


Journal Staff

"Ithaca New York Journal" newspaper


FREEVILLE, New York -- Cornell University's first local organic research site opened to the public Tuesday for the first time since its groundbreaking last year.

The Freeville Organic Research Farm is tucked away in a corner of the Homer C. Thompson Research Vegetable Research Farm, and houses five of 30 acres dedicated to organic systems and organic methods research.

"We're seeing more and more farmers interested in organics. In this area we have a real proximity to markets and I think that's where our opportunities are," said Anusuya Rangarajan, director of the organic research farm.

"Organic dairy is also big in the Northeast so the market is growing for organic grains."

To check out what Cornell researchers are contributing to the field of organic produce, about two dozen people from the surrounding area, with interests as varied as compost production to land purchasing, rode out to the test fields.

There, three experiments are under way. One experiment examines compost and supplements used to start tomato transplants and the plants performance in the field. A second tests 57 varieties of potato, looking to see which grows best in this climate.

"I'd never grown potatoes before," said Kurt Forman, a 25-year farmer. "I won a bag of organic potatoes at a conference I went to and planted them.

The leaves were all turning brown and shriveled. Now I know it's leaf hopper burn. I had no idea what it was before."

Forman said that for both philosophical and economic reasons, he's looking to convert his farm in Palmyra from one that uses conventional methods to organically certified production.

"I've got some organic field corn to use as feed, some tomatoes, squash, fennel. I'm looking for a way to establish a niche market," Forman said.

With the $7 billion a year organic produce market growing at a rate of 20 percent a year, according to the Northeast Organic Network, Forman is joining a growing field. Reports suggest research in the field is not matching its growth, a trend Cornell hopes to diminish.

The farm's third experiment, operating on a much larger scale, studies crop rotation procedures, incorporating small variations to discover how crops, weeds and insects are affected. Having seen a nearly weed-free field that relied on fallow periods and crop rotations, researchers hope to to recreate an equally low weed pressure. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently awarded the project about $550,000.

Farm manager Jeromy Biazzo is also working to grow a buffer of woody plants between the 30 acres of organic research land and conventionally managed crops nearby.

"A lot of the stuff they do is great," Eric Jerabek, a homesteader from the Cazenovia area, said, "but if we did it we'd get smoked."

Jerabek and his wife Jan Jerabek have five acres they maintain with the help of their six children and said they are working towards producing all of their own meat and produce on that land. He said their family's reliance on crop yields for meals makes experimenting unlikely, but they appreciate the research being done.

"We feel very fortunate to be so close to Cornell. We've already picked up some little tidbits," Jan Jerabek said.

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