Q & A with Zaid of Norwich Meadows Farm: “The cycle of life is organic.”

What follows is a snippet of my question and answer session with Zaid Kurdieh of Norwich Meadows Farm. All other questions and answers have been incorporated into the previous article about the farm.

Q: Can you talk about why you pursued the organic label for your farm?

Zaid Kurdieh: Before I started farming, I had worked for the USDA, Cornell and a whole bunch of other places. I studied agriculture. When you study agriculture, especially [about] the pesticides, [you learn that] these are poisons and they act on us, animals, and life forms in a very negative way. Yes they do a job, but they are toxins. A lot of pesticides used on insects are neuro-toxins, meaning toxic to your nervous system.

The cycle of life is organic, it’s not chemical. We have destructed and pushed nature out of balance by using these things. Even intense organic is much closer to nature than a very pesticide-chemical type of system. This has been my philosophy for a long time; it’s not new. I spend a lot of time on paperwork. Here’s how I look at it: I don’t know all of the research, so [I] need a set of guidelines. I like that set of guidelines even though it has problems. Everything has problems. Show me something that doesn’t have problems. I think [the label and inspections] are important because we’re human—there is the specter of getting in trouble.

Q: Did you pick this land simply for economic reasons or were there other reasons?

ZK: I moved here for a job with Cornell. Four to five years into that job I started the farm and the farm kept on expanding. So far so good. It’s been a lot of sacrifice on the part of myself and my partner. We’re 10 years in and we’re just starting to see some returns.

Q: Why was it important for you to bring Egyptian herbs to this country?

ZK: The farmers who work on my farm, farm 80 acres [in Egypt]. If they have a steady year, they make $2,000 net. The people who make the money are the brokers. We decided to cut out the middleman. We’re selling it retail and gaining customers. [Eventually] we want to sell wholesale because 80 acres of herbs is a lot of herbs. We’re even talking about introducing CSAs to Egypt and doing that kind of stuff.

Q: Your religion [Islam] plays a major role in your relationship with land and animals. Can you talk more about that?

ZK: Cheating and not cheating. It goes beyond not cheating people, but not cheating the land. It’s a basic tenet of our religion; waste is one of the biggest no nos. Waste, using things beyond their limit. Lands have limits. [We try to follow] those type of guidelines and in some cases, tenets. The religious guidelines are broad on certain things such as not wasting. In certain areas we have specific instructions. How do you deal with farming the land? With animals there are very specific things, because it involves something that has a soul and therefore has rights. So an animal has the right to life; the larger animals have to live a minimum of six months. Our feeding regimen follows the guideline of what they would naturally eat. A chicken is a carnivore; if a mouse runs across its path, they will attack, shred, and eat it. I don’t feed my chickens any animal products, but there is a small amount of shellfish because of an amino acid chickens are deficient in.

The other big place where religion plays a role is ethics. If I’m selling a tomato and I know that that tomato has a defect, I have to tell my customer. It’s not, let him discover it when he goes home. If they buy it knowing [about the defect], then I’m in the clear. That’s something we frequently do at the market; we’ll tell people or reduce the price so people know. Sometimes we get people saying “I don’t even want to know that”, but we’re going to tell you anyway. I think people appreciate the honesty. I want to do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Q: Do you have any mentors in your field?

ZK: Yes and no. Obviously Joel Salatin; we borrow from his ideas. There are some farmers I look up to and I know do a good job, so I learn from them. I really don’t have anyone in particular because I just don’t have the time to read. When I read, I read very specific information, technical stuff. There are some great farmers who have been doing this for a long time. I borrow from them and learn from them.

Q: How has the weather been for the upcoming summer season?

ZK: It’s been very good this year, but [still] very variable. The summer weather was nice but the snow was stressful on plants. Plants are like humans, they don’t like hot cold, hot cold. Overall, things have been pretty good.

Find Norwich Meadows products:

Sundays:  Stuyvesant Town (when market opens), Tompkins Square

Mondays:  Union Square

Fridays:  Union Square

Saturdays:  Union SquareTucker Square

Norwich Meadows is also a new vendor at the Fulton Stall Market, open on Wednesdays and Sundays from 12-6.

Happy Marketing!




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