Over the past couple of months, I’ve been putting together our application to be certified organic, we had our inspection last week, and we received our certificate this week. We’re pretty excited about it.
So, why did we do this? Well, a few years ago when we were starting to put together what we wanted our future farm to look like, we didn’t put a lot of thought into certifications. We thought that when you go to market and sell directly to customers, you have the opportunity to talk to and develop trusting relationships with customers, and if you can do that then you don’t need a certification for people to feel comfortable buying your produce. To a certain extent this is possible, and our first year was a testament to that. However, we can’t talk to everyone. A lot of people come to market in a rush, or just don’t want to have to question the origins of every carrot. Being able to put up a sign that says “certified organic” means that everyone who buys our produce will know that it’s chemical free, non-gmo, and safe.
What it means that we’re certified organic is that in any given year when we’re inspected (we’ll be inspected annually), our records will be audited. We must have documentation for every step of what we do with every crop from seed to sale. How did we prepare the bed it went into? What date was it seeded? What date was it transplanted? Did we add fertilizer, compost, or any other amendments? If so, we have to provide receipts or product labels for each of those inputs that we use to verify that they’re organic compliant. What was our yield? Where did we store it? How is the area that we store it maintained? How did we transport it? Where did we sell it?
In other words, every crop has to have a paper trail. So if you’re buying our produce, you know that everything we do is being independently verified as falling under organic guidelines.
With regard to organic guidelines, we were both a little skeptical in the past of whether the organic program was strict enough, we didn’t really understand how organic integrity of products was verified, and we thought that we were holding ourselves to a much higher standard than the organic program would.
Well, understanding the number and kinds of records that must be maintained for every organic operation helps me understand how difficult it would be to fake it. There have been a few large cases of fraud - both with things grown in the US and things imported from elsewhere - but they were caught and stopped, and the people responsible are facing serious consequences. And the organic program has tightened up since then. After going through this process, it’s my opinion that the federal organic guidelines set a high bar. We regard that high bar as our minimum standard, and while there are still methods allowed under organic standards that we personally choose not to use (organic pesticides/herbicides/fungicides for example), that doesn’t mean that the organic rules are lax. Quite the contrary.
It’s important to remember how the organic program started. In response to a demand from farmers and consumers, the government passed the Organic Foods Production Act in 1990 to develop a national standard for products labeled as organic. This came after decades of work done by organic farmers advocating against the rise of chemically dependent farming practices. Farmers adhering to environmentally sound practices, who controlled weeds and pests and diseases through better soil management and crop rotation instead of through synthetic chemicals that harm the soil, kill beneficial insects, and leech into the food we eat, these farmers demanded to be regulated. They fought for a label that would differentiate them, and it has. I believe it’s a worthwhile system to buy into as a grower, and an important standard to expect as a consumer.
Now, the fact that we’re certified organic does not mean that we don’t still welcome and encourage and look forward to conversations with our customers about our growing practices. We do! We have not had to change anything about the way that we grow food in order to become certified. We were already keeping most of the records that we need for certification moving forward, we just have change how we track our harvests and sales. The record keeping component is often cited by growers as incredibly daunting, and when you look at what’s required it truly looks like large chunks of time that would normally be used for growing food will have to be spent toiling away with spreadsheets. However, all of the records required fit into the normal day-to-day work on the farm. And having accurate records of how we grow everything, how much we harvest, how much we sell, etc, all will result in us having much better information to base decisions on in coming years.
If you have any questions about how we do what we do, specific questions about organic requirements, why we chose to go organic versus other certifications, or anything at all, please don’t hesitate to comment below or send us an email or social media message.