Mad River Union
McKINLEYVILLE – A community-owned ranch in McKinleyville that recycles sewer water and produces hay has been certified organic.
The top 30 acres of the Fischer Ranch, located at the corner of School and Fischer roads along the Hammond Trail, were deemed organic last May by Global Culture, an agency accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The bottom 50 acres are expected to be certified in January.
The ranch is owned by the McKinleyville Community Services District, which uses the property as a reclamation site for the community’s treated wastewater.
Local rancher Marvin Peachy leases the property from the MCSD for $980 a month and uses the irrigated pastures to grow hay.
It was Peachy’s idea to seek the organic certification. One of the main reasons for going organic is simple economics: Organic hay fetches an additional $50 a ton compared to conventional hay.
“There’s a bigger market for the organic hay,” Peachy said.
So what, exactly, does “organic” mean? In Peachy’s case, it means that no chemicals are used in the growing of his hay other than water. There is no spraying of insecticides or herbicides.
The only downside, he said, is that there’s a larger quantity of mustard and dock weed in the harvested hay. Animals generally don’t eat these weeds, so they are spit out and left behind. Despite the weeds, the organic hay still sells for a higher price.
Peachy, who also farms in Ferndale and Salyer, harvested his first organic hay in McKinleyville this summer.
“We all need to be good stewards of the land,” Peachy said.
Ironically, it was Peachy who was at the center of a controversy in 2011 after he used an unpermitted herbicide at the ranch. Peachy was apologetic about the incident, which created a minor uproar at MCSD meetings. It was after this controversy that Peachy sought to make the ranch organic.
MCSD Manager Greg Orsini said the arrangement with Peachy helps the district save money. Not only does the MCSD receivE nearly $12,000 a year for its Sewer Department, but the ranch pastures get mowed on a regular basis as is required by the state’s permit for the reclamation site.
“Marvin’s decision to go organic was something he did on his own and I’m grateful for it,” Orsini said.
The ranch now has a sign declaring that it is organic. Elsewhere in McKinleyville, the district is also going pesticide-free.
According to Orsini, MCSD staff made an internal decision awhile ago to not use any pesticides at Hiller Park and Pierson Park, both of which now sport “pesticide-free” signs. The parks aren’t deemed organic because the district uses fertilizers to keep the turf thick and green.
In related news, the MCSD Board of Directors will hold a public hearing tonight on the district’s draft integrated pest management plan. The draft can be viewed on the MCSD’s website, mckinleyvillecsd.com/integrated-pest-management-plan.