Derek Wheat is an organic farmer from California. He currently owns Derek Wheat Organic Farms in Rancho Palos Verdes. Although he started years ago, he still operates his business with the same passion. Before being a farm owner, he went to the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis. After graduating, he began working at the Lakeside Organic Gardens where he obtained the necessary real-life experience. Then, in 2002, he decided to venture out and start his own business. Consequently, Derek Wheat Organic Farms was born. There, he remains the sole owner to this very day.
What does a day in the life of an organic farmer look like?
It actually depends on what day you are talking about. Some days, everyone who works on a farm has to contribute to the picking so that we can get our products ready. Then again, there are times when I spend hours making deliveries. After all, the ultimate goal is to sell our products in local markets. It also depends on factors like the weather and even the season. Some products are not around during the summer. Thus, my average day in the summer is probably the very opposite of my average day in the winter.
What are the most important benefits of consuming organic produce?
Well, first, organic food contains far fewer pesticides. For those unfamiliar, these are the chemicals used to repel insects and bacteria. Although they are sometimes needed, many commercial sellers use more than necessary. That tends to put buyers at risk from unexpected reactions and diseases. Also, organic food tends to be fresher because there are no chemicals that make the food last longer. For example, when you buy fruit at a large grocery chain, you might be eating something that is weeks old. If, however, you buy things from independent sellers in the markets, it is likely much fresher because it has a shorter lifetime in general.
What are some harmful effects of pesticides that most people are unaware of?
Pesticides are practically poison. Most people do not know that they are created using toxic chemicals. As a consequence, people who inhale an excessive amount could experience a wide range of symptoms. For instance, some of the lighter issues include things like skin or eye irritation, headaches, and nausea. You could also, however, experience seizures or even die depending on the type of pesticide and the amount ingested. Hence why consuming organic food is a great idea for those looking to avoid any health issues related to their eating habits.
Are you a proponent of sustainable farming? If so, why?
I am a very strong proponent. I think it is a great way to prolong the life of our environment and minimize toxic waste. Although we are still a long way from making sustainable farming a common practice for farmers, I believe it will happen. In fact, it is just a matter of time at this point. I mean, I see no reason not to be a proponent of something that helps farmers have better produce.
Monocrops recently gained momentum, and many farmers support them. What is your opinion on them?
I am not a big fan of it. It revolves around planting a crop in the exact same spot year after year. Hence where the “mono” part of the name came from. Although there are benefits, I do not do my farming this way. It just seems counterproductive when it comes to minimizing the use of pesticides. When you continuously plant the same type of crop in one spot, you are reducing the biodiversity of that area. As a consequence, insects and pests will find it easier to overtake the region. So, you have to utilize more pesticides to keep them away. Since I am an organic farmer, that type of practice goes against my core belief that toxic chemicals should not be used.
Additionally, using more pesticides to keep these monocrops alive will hinder the environment. There is even research that shows how some types of common chemicals used are dangerous for certain animals. Although the list of drawbacks goes on, these tend to be enough for me to form an opinion about monocrops.