Our Hunt For Clean Produce!
We are constantly on the look-out for clean produce. We feel our current range is passable at this time, but we would love to be more consistent in our offerings. With crop rotation there is produce that we cannot get despite the fact it might be the season. “Crop rotation is the practice of planting different crops sequentially on the same plot of land to improve soil health, optimize nutrients in the soil, and combat pest and weed pressure.” (Rodale institute).
Our search for new partner farms takes us all over Vietnam, but mainly to DakLak and Lam Dong provinces as that is where you find the majority of farming in Vietnam.
I wanted to share our latest experiences with you. They seriously made me consider so many things about being in this business. At the end of the day, my conclusion is: we are doing the right thing and we are climbing a mountain – the view is amazing from up there!
Our hunt for clean produce
Farm 1 – sounds like an amazing place, in our many conversations with them we hear about their farming processes. The complete lack of pesticides. They even just received an organic certificate within the past year.
A few months back when preparing a presentation I came across a new set of organic standards here in Vietnam: Vietnam Certified Organic (VCO). Needless to say, I was thrilled to learn that The Ministry of Science and Technology has issued and published a set of Vietnam National Organic Standards! For all these years this is what we really wanted to see.
I have not seen (m)any stickers on produce indicating the produce lives up to these standards, but the rules are here now and farm 1 has the certificate.
What I also learned during my presentation writing is that: currently farmers and retailers are paying the operating fee for the VCO certificate. I am not sure if this means they pay for the costs in relation to getting the certificate; this would be very much in line with USDA or EU organic certification (one of the reasons these products are very expensive). Or do they pay a “donation” or something something and then they can apply for the certificate. Same same? I don’t quite know.
We see the test results from Farm 1 and the organic certificate is sent to us, we feel the victory of “bringing home” yet another amazing farm that we can support and in return we can supply more consistent produce to our customers.
Of course we want to test the produce ourselves and so we do. Testing is extremely expensive, in part because we test for many components and because we test for some specific pesticides that are outside of what the test centers test for in a “normal” test. We start off with red pepper and tomatoes (they are on the dirty dozen list and more likely to have pesticides) – the pepper results come back positive with 4 different fungicides and the tomatoes with 3, but the fruit we test is all clean.
Long story short, it turns out Farm 1 is really not a farm, but a wholesaler buying from various farms in DaLat. The only produce they have control over are the fruits.
Going through this whole process, trusting the people we have many and long conversations with, seeing the photos of the farms and the farmers; and building a relationship. Thanking them for doing the work they do, to find out that it was really all just a performance. On a personal level I am extremely hurt, my ego is bruised. I know that is the smallest part, but I do feel thankful our due diligence takes us through several checks allowing us to catch issues like these.
Farm 2: We looked at this farm a wee while back. It looked really good, the only thing that sort of made us pause and think was the price of the produce. We were surprised that it was quite low compared to our other suppliers (most we had since we started our business 3+ years ago). What was good though, was they were in the process of applying for USDA organic. We left it at that. Then circled back again a month or so ago. Prices had changed and were very much in line with what we get from our other partner farms. They are still in the process of applying for USDA they tell us. Again we have many long conversations, we see photos and we get to know them. We test and lo and behold, the yellow pepper this time has herbicide residue.
We confront them, have more talks, however this time the connection seems to fall out quite frequently and then suddenly there is no connection making a conversation difficult. We do learn that Farm 2 decided not to apply for USDA (all of the sudden) as it would make the produce much more expensive – we could have told them this when we first spoke to them more than 6 months ago. It also turns out they do not own or control the farms they said they did and are essentially wholesalers as with Farm 1 (no relation).
Anyhow as of today, farm 2 is continuing to sell their “organic” produce on FaceBook and my heart breaks yet again because they are ruining it for all the very few farmers who are actually doing the right thing. I know only the yellow pepper tested positive, but for one we cannot trust them and secondly you cannot spray only one type of crop without affecting the others and the soil. Not to mention the farmer who is spraying the chemicals!
Tel: 0395 898 500