Posted: June 13, 2013 at 12:31 am

By Dave Marnell and Kayla Marley

In the organic farming community, “you are what you eat” isn’t just a saying, it’s a manifesto.

“Food choices say a lot about one’s education on life,” said Melvin Krambule, 36, operations trainer at Organically Grown Company in Portland, Ore.

Krambule is one of the many trailblazers switching from the ‘dark side’ to the ‘green side’ as more information becomes available to citizens about the effects their choices have on the environment. After multiple tours to Afghanistan and Iraq as an infantryman, Krambule found a high paying job in the oil industry. Then, one day, his views suddenly changed.

Livestock, such as this lamb, are researched at WVU's farms.

Livestock, such as this lamb, are researched at WVU’s farms.

“I was sick of profiting off things that are harmful to the population and environment,” Krambule said. “I wanted to be a part of the future. Worrying about just my own needs, at the expense of others, is a form of thought that doesn’t move me forward.”

For any movement looking to shape the future, education is the closest form of teleportation. In 1999 West Virginia University’s College of Agriculture began organic farming research on a 68-acre plot of land owned by the university. The farm researches every form of organic crop production. Dr. Jim Kotcon, associate professor of plant pathology, was there at the beginning and still helps maintain the fields today.

“Many organic farmers had a legitimate complaint that the college of agriculture was not providing enough research for the things they needed,” Kotcon said in regards to the start of organic studies at the university. “Research back then was dominated by chemical company interest. We saw this as a good chance to serve a segment of the American agriculture community that had been underserved.”

Like most in the farming industry in 1999, Kotcon was working in conventional farming. Conventional farming uses pesticides and other chemicals that can contaminate the earth’s soil and natural water resources, along with the workers planting them and potentially consumers eating them.

Dr. Jim Kotcon helped start WVU's organic farm in 1999 and still works there today.

Dr. Jim Kotcon helped start WVU’s organic farm in 1999 and still works there today.

Organic farming looks to eliminate those effects by not using chemicals. Instead they practice preventive measures to control pesticides before they arrive. They also take a minimalist approach to alternating the natural landscape.

“Organic farming is the cutting edge of understanding agriculture ecosystems,” Kotcon said. “[The organic farm] is not constructed or developed. We try to take the natural environment and manage it for the optimum production while minimizing the adverse effects that might come from conventional agriculture.”

While there seems to be an invisible line that draws the organic community together, one that blends a love of life and a desire to work, ‘sustainability’ seems to be the uniting call.

Research has shown that the pollution pesticides and fertilizers create leave a chemical imprint on the water lines they travel along. This pollution of chemicals infects not just farm grounds but creates ‘dead zones’ in places thousands of miles away. These ‘dead zones’ deplete the water of oxygen, forcing the migration of species capable of swimming and suffocating the ones unable to flee. ‘Dead zones’ lead to aquatic wastelands, some as large as 8,000 square miles, like the one discovered in 2007 along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Beyond just chemical pollution, organic farming looks to have consumers buy locally so less energy is consumed in the shipment of products, along with ideals that look to push the farming occupation in a more progressive direction.

Bob Koshell, 26, tends to organic tomatoes on WVU's organic research farm, located near the Suncrest Towne Center.

Bob Koshell, 26, tends to organic tomatoes on WVU’s organic research farm, located near the Suncrest Towne Center.

“As a farmer,” said Stephanie Hamilton, 22, a graduate student in the College of Agriculture and lifetime farmer, “you have to take care of the environment that takes care of you.”

Regardless of what draws people to organic, the numbers show they are arriving and staying. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, organic food sales jumped from $11 billion in 2004 to $27 billion in 2012. In 2012, the growth rate of organic food was double the rate of non-organic products. Today 4 percent of food products sold is organic. Organic growers hope to see it reach 20 percent. While these farmers plant the seeds, they know that for them to fully sprout, it will take an appetite for knowledge about what people eat to impact the market as well as the earth.