Drought cuts supplies of organic food

Sweet corn was hit hard; are beans, squash and tomatoes next?
Tuesday, August 19, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:20 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Local organic food lovers may find slim pickings of their food favorites until next season.

Roxie Campbell, 40, visits both Clover’s Natural Market and The Root Cellar about once every three months. The Root Cellar, she said, provides a convenient source of grass-fed organic beef when she is in the mood for it.

“I like to support locally produced items,” Campbell said. “And I am concerned about the chemicals and hormones going into the food.”

Campbell, a naturalist with Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, said her produce needs from either store are not that substantial — her parents own a farm — but she did not know what alternative she would have if a major shortage of select organic items occurred because of the drought.

“We’ll have to see what happens,” she said.

Clover’s offers a range of certified organic produce from Boulder Fruit Express, a Colorado-based distributor, but produce manager Diane Hazelwood said the store also works with local organic farmers, who have been contacting her quite a bit lately with bad news.

The recent dry-weather conditions have limited the produce supply from these farmers, with sweet corn being hit the hardest.

“Our certified organic products have been OK,” Hazelwood said. “However, many local farmers inside and outside Columbia have been affected by the drought lately. Many people don’t have irrigation.”

The store’s supply of tomatoes, beans and squash from these farmers has been pretty good this summer, but Hazelwood anticipates a sharp decline in these items if the drought continues.

The Root Cellar works exclusively with 80 organic farmers within a 100-mile radius of Columbia. Co-owner Walker Claridge said the selection has helped the store supplement items for a much longer time through the drought period.

“The good thing about using local farmers is the diversity of having those farmers,” Claridge said.

That diversity is being tested as more of his suppliers face production problems.

“Most customers’ requests throughout the summer have been for sweet corn and green beans,” he said. “In about a week, sweet corn and berries — blackberries and blueberries — will disappear.”

Claridge said organic cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, lettuce and mushrooms also have been affected negatively, and more of the same is expected for the fall produce line.

“People just can’t get their fall crops started because of the irrigation problems,” he said.

Consumers will begin to see the drought’s effect on organic dry goods, meat and dairy products a little later, Claridge said. He hopes rain will soon be a part of the solution.

“We’re going to need some divine intervention one way or another.”

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