By RICHARD A. ROSS
LAVA — One-half cup of soil contains more than
10,000,000 living organisms, which far outnumbers the human population
on this planet. According to John Gorzynski, “healthy soil grows
healthy crops,” a mantra he has tried to live by in his organic
farming efforts, which have supplied not only local customers in
Sullivan County but many long-standing customers at the Green Market
in New York City.
In Gorzynski’s view, “What is needed to grow good
food is already in the earth and the use of chemical fertilizers
and sprays destroys many of those organisms and degrades the soil,
leading to a vicious cycle requiring the use of even more chemicals.”
The picture has become even more complex as recent ventures into
biotechnology have lead to genetically engineered foods. For Gorzynski,
these illogical and unhealthy means of growing are clearly out of
the question, and his nearly 20-year venture into organic farming
has been both bountiful and successful.
Arriving in Sullivan County in 1982, Gorzynski
and his wife Sue bought 52 acres in Cochecton Center, of which about
20 have become fertile ground for organic farming. Within six years,
the farm began producing, although farming is at once a complex
and simple venture. As Gorzynski pointed out, “It begins with the
basic elements of good soil, clean water, sunlight and, of course,
seeds.” Plants, however, are subject to the exigencies of the weather,
and can be attacked by a host of other living creatures.
People have always sought ways to protect crops
from such invasions, while also applying methods that would increase
both yield and flavor. Such efforts have essentially resulted in
two differing ideologies. The first and most prevalent is to protect
crops from invasion by applying sprays or dusts designed to kill
off the offending insects. The history of modern agriculture is
in part a tale of the use of various and sundry chemicals, many
of which are now deemed toxic and carcinogenic. Gorzynski cited
chemicals like Malathion, Mathoxicor, DDT, 240D and 245T, which
are now banned due to detrimental effects on people and insects.
In his earlier career as a tree sprayer, Gorzynski worked with some
of these chemicals and witnessed their effects.
Nowadays, science and agriculture often team up
to search out new methods of eliminating pests and blight. Not only
has this led to newer herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers,
but it has also ushered in a new process of genetically engineering
crops to make them more resistant to attacks by pests or spraying.
For organic farmers like Gorzynski there exists
a more natural and earth-conscious approach to farming. It is predicated
on the idea that a grower should work with nature. It is to this
end that Gorzynski has attempted to employ the kind of basic farming
methods used by people for centuries. “One of the most important
methods is crop rotation,” he said. Quite simply, different crops
require different nutrients from the soil.
While many organic farmers rely on less toxic sprays
such as Bacillus thuringiensus (Bt), it has been five years since
Gorzynski has applied any sprays. He chooses a more “holistic aspect
of organic agriculture.” This means, “accepting things the way they
are,” which includes learning about insect ecology and how insects
develop their own populations. “Only 20 percent of insects are considered
detrimental, but only five percent of those feed at any given time.
In other words, 80 percent of the insect population is either benign
or beneficial,” he said.
Gorzynski’s early career as a tree sprayer in New
Jersey was instrumental in leading him to chemical-free farming.
He noticed great areas of defoliation that resulted from supposedly
safe spraying. Reading Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” as well
as publications from Rodale Press, inspired him to continue a family
tradition of gardening, while at the same time employing some of
his newfound ideas on growing things organically.
In the late 1970’s Gorzynski rented some black
dirt acreage and began growing and selling his organic crops at
the farmers market in Middletown. He set a goal of five years to
make a go of it. A friend told Gorzynski about the NYC Green Market.
On his first trip his entire truckload sold out quickly. After a
few years of renting his farming acreage, Gorzynski settled in Sullivan
[Richard Ross is an English and Journalism teacher
at Livingston Manor Central School and a freelance feature writer.]