O rganic farming has been a way of life for Marcia Litsinger of Churchill Butte Farms for more than 30 years. A certified organic farmer who represents the state of Nevada and the organic industry on a national stage as a presidentially appointed member of the State Committee for the Farm Service Agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Marcia started farming with a shovel, a pick and a gifted copy of the Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. Marcia’s advocacy for organic spans the gamut from the classroom to Washington, ensuring that the Farm Service Agency aggressively and fairly serves every producer in Nevada.
When Marcia started farming after purchasing bare land previously inhabited by “only the sheep and wild things”, she was taken with the concepts from Rodale’s organic encyclopedia and practiced in a backyard garden. A family illness lead to her absence from the farm for a while, and upon her return, her personal garden had gone to seed over the winter. Heavy rain combined with a good snow winter resulted in an overabundance of lettuce, spinach, arugula and more. “I didn’t know what to do with it all”, exclaimed Marcia, “so I just started calling restaurants to see if they needed it. Next thing you know, I was in business!”.
For the next 30 years, Marcia continued expanding her production year round, and consistently held a two-year waiting list for her crops. Three years into operation, Marcia’s husband Steve joined the farm full-time, along with more farm hands. Now officially retired from the farm, today Marcia and Steve serve as board members of USDA Accredited Certifier Basin and Range Organics, in Reno, Nevada.
It’s not just dirt ... “It’s a living thing”
Marcia and Steve recall conversations about the term “organic” with consumers and curious conventional farmers. “First of all,” Marcia says, “I don’t think I’ve met many people in the last 30 years that actually knew what ‘organic’ was. They’ll state, ‘it’s a word’ … or, ‘it’s anything carbon based’ … or ‘it’s just a federal program’ … the list goes on and on” Marcia claims. “I’ve heard people refer to organic as a ‘marketing ploy’, says Marcia. “We’ve got to change that perception,” she says. “There are a lot of people that care about organic and we need to get the information out about how valuable it is to consumers and to the environment” she proclaims.
“In reality, organic is an ecological way of farming. The water, and the earth and the environment from the chemicals and the misuses of the land. It fosters biodiversity in plant life and animal life and insect life” says Marcia. “That is what organic is all about!” she exclaims.
Marcia and Steve take their passion to the school grounds frequently. Working with school gardens to build healthy communities in Dayton, the duo teach students and adults how to grow, cook and eat organic. “People are so used to having their food packaged for them that for 2 – 3 generations, they have no idea where their food comes from” said Marcia. “So besides growing our own food, we’re teaching people where their food comes from and how to grow it themselves” she says. “The children love it.” says Marcia. ”Our children actually know what organic is. They know what good food is, what Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are, what chemical fertilizers are and what they do to our bodies, to the environment and to microorganisms.”
“Little children and mud and worms – what could be better?!” says Marcia proudly.
Soil is the essence of it all
“There is so much happening today with organically managed land,” Steve states. “There is so much more that we’re learning about the soil and the organic soil as opposed to conventional soil and how it absorbs the water” he says. In Nevada, the Litsingers have noticed an uptick in Alfalfa growers transitioning to organic, because the organic dairies need organic alfalfa as feed. “They’re starting to clean up their valleys … it’s wonderful!” exclaims Marcia. One example of the impact is at the watershed on the West side of the Sierra Range. This water flows to the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge, which was so polluted 30 years ago that the birds were not hatching out because their shells were not strong enough. Today, you can go there and “birds are everywhere!” exudes Marcia.
It’s been a long effort to promote and grow the organic movement in Nevada for the Litsingers. From cultivating their own land, to tirelessly educating in the classroom, to advocating for policy change at the state and the federal level and now to ensuring compliance with the federal regulation at Basin and Range Organics, the Litsingers have plowed the ground continually.
“Letting people know what it means to be organic is important. We explain to consumers why they should want to go out and buy organic produce and support organic farmers. We explain to Farmers why it’s good for a farmer to certify organic and put that seal up. Many people don’t know what it means to be organic, and that there is something behind it.
“We’ve worked hard” say both Marcia and Steve emphatically. But in the same breath, they proclaim, “we’ve feel that we’ve only just begun!”