Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Unfortunately, anytime there is an economic demand for a product, impostors sometimes begin to spring up at an alarming rate. This is the situation that many small certified organic farmers are encountering with more and more regularity when trying to market their goods. At farmer's markets, roadside stands, buying clubs and other venues, there are unscrupulous growers who claim to be "almost organic" or to be using "organic methods".

Many times farmers have no real clear idea of the disservice they are doing to the concepts of organic farming when they misuse the term "organic". Many of them simply do not have access to or completely comprehend the organic standards of the National Organic Program. Some of them simply do not care.

Just because you didn't spray noxious chemical pesticides on your crops in no remote way makes you an organic grower, nor does it adhere to the organic method. This system of agriculture is a synergistic partnership between the grower, the environment, combined with a deep respect and philosophical understanding of what this partnership requires. Unfortunately, it has become a marketing scheme in the last decade, instead of the principled ideals that were originally conceived.

Part of the organic method requires the support and establishment of habitat for beneficial insects, birds and other helpful creatures. It is not about controlling nature but rather finding the balance between what nature creates and working within that creation. It requires strong faith in the perfect order of all things in nature and to work with and within the natural cycles that occur. The truest principles of organic farming are not about commerce, they are about a deep and abiding love of Mother Earth and about taking our earthly stewardship responsibilities very seriously. It's really not all about the money.


There is an exemption from certification for legitimate very small organic growers. These producers are allowed to call their products organic, provided that they meet the specifications for this exemption. Part of the onus of responsibility for these non-certified organic growers is to keep the exact same paperwork and follow the exact same rules that certitied growers use. Only then is the exemption legitimate.

Ergo, the requirements to legally label a product as organic (non-certified) by falling under this exemption category, is exactly the same as a certified grower. All they are exempt from is inspection and paying for certification, which incidentally is not expensive at all. This is another common argument for not being certified that is completely bogus...most certifiers have caps on what they can charge and the USDA offers financial assistance to help with the costs of certification.

Since the other most common argument against certification among these pseudo-organic growers is that the paperwork is too burdensome for them to bother with but that is also not true.The documentation required is, if anything, an extremely useful tool that helps a farmer track his progress and have a yearly record to refer back to when planning his growing seasons. It is no more involved that keeping track of how you are managing your business. To be successful, any well managed business must keep good records, so what it the difference?

(The link below will take you to brief outline lists some of the key points that make certification of a producer/product important to anyone who eats organic food.)

Certified versus Non-Certified


So, the only way to be certain that you are, in fact, getting what you are paying for is to ask for the grower's certification or to question their methods. It is your right to know. Organic certification is your assurance that the grower has done his or her due dilligence in order to obtain that certification. Third party certifiers for the USDA inspect farms to make sure that they are following what amounts to the strictest food growing standards in the world today. If your grower falls under the small grower's exemption, he/she should be able to explain the regulations that cover his/her operation.

And the growers are not the only ones at fault with regard to misinformation about organics. A majority of consumers don't really know exactly what they are seeking when it comes to organics and so the waters are muddied even further. Lots of consumers are really looking for fresh, local produce, not truly organic produce and this lack of distinction between two very different products feeds the cult of misinformation about organics that abounds at farmer's markets, etc.