Mercer organic farmer knows some consumers seek healthier, safer food

January 20, 2004|GARY MOYERS

The news that mad cow disease was discovered in the United States in December focused public attention not only on what the disease is, but also its cause and how to prevent it.

Organic farmers have been saying for years that their growing practices are the best and safest way to ensure an uninfected supply of meat and produce.

According to the Organic Farming Research Foundation, all kinds of agricultural products are produced organically, including vegetables, fruits, grains, meat, dairy, eggs, fibers such as cotton, flowers, and processed food products. Organic farmers are not allowed to use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.

In other words, organic products are grown using natural methods and additives, and practitioners say that keeps away ingredients in feed that cause and spread mad cow disease.


Peter Cashel and his wife, Brenda, own a 350-acre organic farm on Mackville Road in Mercer County that specializes in organic produce and meats. They sell vegetables, poultry, beef, shrimp and catfish.

"Organic farming produces what we believe is a natural food supply, with no antibiotics, no supplements, no chemical additives," said Peter Cashel, who began Terrapin Hill Farms nine years ago. "Everyone has their own theories about diseases and problems caused by mass-produced food supplies, but we believe it is healthier to eat organic products. You grow it locally, market it locally, and eat it locally, and there's a lot of advantages there."

Cashel began farming organically with help from a Community Supported Agriculture group, local organizations that unite small farmers, and he's seen the local market for his products grow in the last few years.

"If the Lexington and Danville markets are any indication, it is a growing market," he said. "The consumer wants to know where his food comes from and what's in it. More people are looking at organic food for its health benefits, and the greater the demand, the more the supply will grow. That, of course, will bring prices down as well."

But Cashel also believes organic farming brings other benefits to the community.

"The emphasis for us is on local buying," he said. "If you buy locally, whether it's produce or meat or whatever, you know what you're getting and where it's coming from. It's fresher, it's not shipped a thousand miles before you get it, and if it's organic, it doesn't contain all the unnatural preservatives and chemicals that can be so damaging. You're helping the local farmer, rewarding him for growing in your area and keeping him in business, so there are economic benefits as well.

"All of us involved in this movement are trying to develop a model market plan with diversification, co-ops and other tools that help the farm-to-market process," he said.

Cashel sells his products at Farmer's Markets in Lexington, Danville and Harrodsburg, and even has an order and delivery service.

"We're members of the Community Farm Alliance, which lobbies for good policies to help local farmers keep their farms," he said. "A key component of that is diversification, which moves smaller farms from reliance on one crop, like tobacco, for instance, to a more diverse output. That's where organic farming comes in. Using organic methods, if there's a market for the products, farmers can make their farms more productive and profitable."

Mercer County Extension Agent Tony Shirley said reservations for spots at the 2004 Farmer's Market in Harrodsburg, which will open in April, are already up this year.

"We've already had 25 vendors register for our market, way up over the last few years," he said. "I don't know if recent publicity is the cause, but whatever the reason, by the time the market opens, we expect it to be the biggest we've had."

Cashel caught the farming bug when he was a child in Pennsylvania.

"As a kid we lived in a wooded area, and I fell in love with the land," he said. "I moved to Kentucky and we bought this farm, and really didn't have a plan at the time. Our plan has evolved over the years, and our love for the land and the whole farming way of life has grown stronger."

The plan includes educating other people about the value of land and organic farming.

"We're working on a log cabin that we're going to move into, and we're going to turn the main house here into a place to hold educational workshops," he said. "What we'd like to offer down the road is a hands-on approach to teach the beauty of Kentucky's farms and farming tradition. I saw what happened to the land in Pennsylvania - so much of is has been lost over the years to development. Small farms are an important resource that we must make sure we don't ever lose."

For more information about Terrapin Hill Farms, visit

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