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A conversation with
John Gorzynski


TRR photo by Richard Ross
A spread of organically grown vegetables from Gorzynsky’s farm. (Click for larger image)

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.

TRR photo by Richard Ross
John Gorzynski has farmed organically for nearly 20 years. (Click for larger image)

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.

TRR Photo by Richard Ross
Gorzynski’s road-side sign is a familiar marker to local travelers. (Click for larger image)

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 County.

[Richard Ross is an English and Journalism teacher at Livingston Manor Central School and a freelance feature writer.]

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