"It is understandable people have concerns and questions," he added. "We have learned a lot during this last year."
Regulators have been poring over comments from some 20,000 groups and individuals. On listening tours at farms, they have gotten an earful from growers such as Judith Redmond, one of the owners of the 350-acre Full Belly Farm in the scenic Capay Valley northwest of Sacramento. Redmond says she is bewildered by proposed restrictions on compost that could make it impossible to use on some crops.
"We think they should be encouraging people to use compost," she said. "To consider it dangerous or potentially harboring pathogens is the wrong message to be sending."
While the FDA is striking a conciliatory tone, protest is sure to follow when revised rules emerge this summer. That much is clear just from listening to both sides on issues as esoteric as how long farmers should be required to leave manure in a compost pile.
Farmers say they simply don't have the facilities to do what food-safety groups are demanding.
Crawford, for example, fertilizes his farm with manure made from the waste of his 300 chickens. Composting it for as long a period as the draft FDA rules require would be impossible, he says.
He worries, too, about rules requiring him to keep animals away from the crops.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest will be pushing the FDA not to yield.
"Necessity is the mother of invention," Smith DeWaal said. "Why not create a cooperative whose sole job it is to truck this stuff to a composting facility and truck it back? It's an expense, but way better than the unexpected expense of a major recall and implications to your farm if an outbreak is traced to your product. There are costs either way."
That might make sense to Crawford, the farmer, if he saw convincing evidence the manure he is using is dangerous. But he hasn't. What he sees is an added expense that will give another reason for farmers operating on the margins to call it quits.
"The public loves to love and idealize us little family farmers," he said. "But the vast majority of us are hanging by a thread. Now, the government is saying, 'We are going to put a lot more weight on that thread.'"