organic farming

Rearranging veggie genes is big business, and we're not even talking about biotechnology. Private companies and university researchers spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year breeding better genetic varieties of food crops.

But organic farmers say those programs have a big blind spot when it comes to figuring out which new varieties are truly better. Few companies or researchers test those varieties under organic conditions.

You're in the supermarket gathering ingredients for eggnog and a Christmas Bundt cake, and you're staring at a wall of egg cartons. They're plastered with terms that all sound pretty wonderful: All-Natural, Cage-Free, Free-Range, Farm Fresh, Organic, No Hormones, Omega-3. And so on.

And yet the longer you stare at them, the more confused you become. You are tired and hungry, so you just grab the cheapest one — or the one with the most adorable chicken illustration — and head for the checkout line.

Tennessee has $170,000 dollars available for certified organic farmers and those transitioning to organic agriculture. The money is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Organic Initiative, which helps plan and implement conservation practices that allow their organic operations to be environmentally sustainable.  Some of these practices include cover crops, nutrient and pest management and crop rotation.