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Like all farmers, organic farmers must enjoy working outdoors in all weather conditions. Work days are often long. In fact, half of all full-time farmers and farmworkers toil sixty or more hours a week. Because organic farmers usually use few machines or power tools in their work, organic farming can be even more labor intensive than traditional farming. Like all farmers, they do planting and cultivation in early spring and throughout summer, but they have to work in other seasons, too. In fall, they must harvest the summer crops, sow seeds for fall crops, and begin preparing the fields for spring planting. In winter, organic farmers continue preparation for the upcoming growing season by starting crops in greenhouses, and making repairs to barns, fences, and farm equipment.

Organic farmers, like traditional farmers, may work on a “diversified farm,” which grows a variety of crops, including fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Many of them, however, concentrate on only one or two specialty crops, a growing trend in farming. For organic farmers, growing only one or two crops allows them to focus their energies carefully. Some organic farmers only grow vegetables. For them, there's nothing like the satisfaction of watching tomatoes swell from tiny pea-like orbs to big shiny red globes, or watching rows of corn rise along the landscape. Other organic farmers only grow grains like wheat or rye. Some grow flowers. For them, tending field upon field of tulips, daffodils, or other flowers is the ultimate outdoor experience. Some grow herbs for culinary, medicinal and decorative use.

An Organic Farmer's Lexicon

acre An area measuring 43,560 square feet.

amendment A natural substance added to the soil to improve, or “amend,” it.

compost Decaying plant or vegetable material used as a natural plant fertilizer.

crop rotation Alternating crops planted in the same ground from year to year to protect the soil's quality.

guano Droppings from animals, usually seabirds and bats, used as organic fertilizer.

manure The droppings of plant-eating animals, such as cows and horses, added to the soil to improve plant growth.

oilseed crops The name given to crops used in producing cooking oils, such as canola, soybeans, and sunflower seeds.

organic Relating to food or the production of food grown using all-natural plant or animal substances.

What sets organic farmers apart from traditional farmers are their growing methods. Instead of using chemical fertilizers, which can be harmful to soil and water, they concentrate on improving the soil, adding cow manure and other natural “amendments” that provide life-giving nutrients to crops. Fertilizers are made of natural substances that come from plants or animals. Rather than use chemical pesticides, organic farmers take preventative measures, using natural substances to grow healthy plants that are more resistant to insect infestation or disease. Some organic farmers also help protect the environment by using more hand tools, rather than machinery and power tools that consume polluting energy resources like gas and electricity.

Organic farmers are found throughout the United States. Where farmers live usually determines the crops they grow. That's especially true for organic farmers who insist on growing crops in the most natural way possible, never forcing them to grow in improper weather conditions.

Because many organic farmers grow only one or two crops, they often work on smaller farms, some as small as 10 acres. But it's not uncommon for them to join organic farming cooperatives—groups of organic farmers who join together to sell their harvested crops as well as share their knowledge about the latest methods for growing crops naturally.

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