Feb 182011

Photo by Tammy Gray-Searles Brad Rishel shows off salad greens currently growing at his Day-Star Farm despite wildly fluctuating temperatures and freezing conditions. A greenhouse and covered hoops allow the farm to grow crops year-round. Produce is certified naturally grown, and no chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used in the operation.

By Tammy Gray-Searles —

It seems counter-intuitive that locally grown organic food is widely available in large cities, but difficult to find in rural communities. Although that seems to be the case across much of the country, Holbrook and sur-rounding communities now have a source of naturally grown produce through Day-Star Farms, located on the outskirts of Holbrook.

Brad Rishel started Day-Star about three years ago with just a few rows of crops and a plan to grow vege-tables without the use of chemicals and pesticides. Since then, the farm has doubled in size every year, and produces potatoes, squash, beets, carrots, tomatoes and salad greens. Eggs and baked goods are also available from the farm.

Rishel explained that although the methods he uses are considered organic, the produce is not certified as organic, but as naturally produced. This is because of the difficulty and expense of obtaining the designation in Arizona.

“It costs over $2,000 a year to be certified organic in Arizona. In New Mexico, it’s $120 a year,” he re-marked.

According to Rishel, produce certified naturally grown meets the same standards set by the U.S. Depart-ment of Agriculture (USDA) for organic food, but the designation is issued by the Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) organization.

CNG notes that its requirements are based on USDA organic guidelines, but farms are peer-reviewed and inspected. The group offers an alternative way to assure consumers that products are grown naturally without over-burdening growers. CNG notes, “Extensive paperwork, plus high certification fees, make it unlikely if not impossible for many small farms to become certified organic. Some of the nation’s best organic farmers are ironically no longer able to call themselves ‘organic’ anymore. Certified Naturally Grown provides these small, local growers with an alternative label and certification system that consumers can quickly come to trust and understand.”

Rishel explained that such programs, along with farmers’ markets and local consumers willing to pay full retail price to the grower, are what make it possible for small-scale growers like Day-Star Farm to operate.

“There are no wholesale outlets,” he explained.

With about 20 beds, Day-Star Farm is operating on a small scale, but Rishel noted that there are plans to double the size of the farm by adding another 20 beds later in the year. Right now, Rishel and his wife, Dr. Hannah Rishel, provide most of the labor for the farm, along with one employee. Rishel explained that plant-ing and harvesting constitute the bulk of the work, and maintenance such as weed removal is minimal due to watering methods.

The farm uses a drip irrigation method that delivers water directly to each plant, which reduces water use and discourages weeds. Rishel also uses a “chicken tractor” on fallow beds to remove weeds. The chickens are placed in a large enclosure on a planting bed and eat the weeds that have sprung up.

As the farm heads into the start of its third season, Rishel notes that will be selling produce at farmers’ markets and to Amelia’s Gardens in Snowflake, and hopes to increase the list of local consumers who buy di-rect from the farm.

He is also working on creating a community supported agriculture (CSA) service that allows customers to purchase a share of the produce in advance and receive weekly deliveries throughout the year.

For more information, visit www.Day-StarFarm.com or call (928) 241-1867.