Expert>>> Steve Ela
Ela Family Farms, Hotchkiss, Colorado; president of the board,
Organic Farming Research Foundation, Santa Cruz, California (www.ofrf.org)
Before going organic, I sprayed a lot of nasty pesticides. I hate putting on a rubber suit and a respirator and going out and baking in the hot sun, knowing that, really, when you mix those things, there is almost no way you can not be exposed to it. Now we spray, but we spray organically, so we use soft materials that are relatively nontoxic to humans. I don't have to wear a lot of protective equipment, I don't have to worry about the residues, I don't have to worry about my kids playing in the grass. It's one less worry, both for my own health and sense of well-being and for my family's.
I really think the biological mediation of systems is the next new wave. We see that not only in agriculture but also in wastewater treatment for cities. And pollution control is using all of these biological processes; it's not just chemical control. We really are at the tip of a new era of understanding how we can use biology to really benefit our lives. It doesn't mean chemicals are going to go away, but they're not going to have the front-row seats.
We want people to enjoy eating. I mean, I love a good meal. And I want other people to enjoy that and to savor their food. I think that's one of the fundamental pleasures in life, ultimately, and it doesn't cost that much more. I want to have people be enticed, I want them to want to eat the product. So it's always, in my head, â€˜How can we do that better? How can we make a better product that you want?'
I think research is key, and that's what gets me excited about being a farmer. And it's fun; you have to integrate all of these things. You sit there and stew sometimes, ˜If I do that, what is it going to mean?' You can't say, ˜Well, I'm going to put some nitrogen on it," because you aren't allowed to do that. You have to think globally, and you have to think in increments. And oftentimes, you solve a problem not with a magic bullet but by coming up with four other little things that add up to solving a problem. And that's really fun—aggravating, but fun.