|Assistant UT Professor Annette Wszelaki is UT Vegetable Specialist |
and heads up the state's organic growing program.
Wszelaki was gracious enough to give me a personal tour of the UT Organic Research Farm in early spring. She showed me everything from the high tunnels that house rows of lettuce and strawberries, to strips of experimental mulches, to a plot of organically grown cabbages and garlic. This assistant professor is ready to articulate in detail about the ways cover crops like Austrian winter pea and oats can benefit the soil. Yet, she's patient enough to answer my simple questions like, "Isn't growing organically harder than conventional?"
Wszelaki's answer focuses on the big picture. "Once you have a nice system I don't think it's harder; and with our organic program we're working on developing a system." The UT extension service supports growers around the state who use both conventional and organic methods and those who are in transition between the two paradigms. Research at the UT farm can show growers alternatives to reaching for something synthetic to fix depleted soil, kill weeds or defend against pests. Organic studies help growers focus on crop rotations that can prevent erosion, feed the soil, control weeds and attract beneficial insects. "You're looking at the whole system and what each thing can contribute." While we admired some of the crops up close, we could see the bees housed at the edge of the woods, soon to be doing their part to pollinate the plants.