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Author Topic: Local Certified Organic vs. Local Uncertified Organic
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  Garden Gnome
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Local Certified Organic vs. Local Uncertified Organic    (Posted Wed, Dec 5 '07 at 05:16 UTC)

I'm doing a radio show for part of a final class project for my sustainable agriculture class. The topic of the show is the pros and cons of organic certification for small farmers who are already producing at or above the current USDA organic standards. This seemed like an excellent place to hear a variety of opinions. Are you certified? Why or why not? What would you change if you could? Do you think the USDA standardization of organics was good or bad? ...and anything else you might think of.
Thanks for the help.

Re: Local Certified Organic vs. Local Uncertified Organic    (Posted Wed, Dec 5 '07 at 12:26 UTC)

Hey Gnome,
I operate Maplewood Gardens in Elderon, Wisconsin. I have been studying organic gardening for 25 years, now, and have been certified since '96. I operate well above the NOS and have never used any toxic substance in any of my 13 gardens at any time for any purpose. I am disgusted with what the USDA has done to organic standards. They are happy, through MOSA, to certify my operation, but I wouldn't certify their standards. Hardly a month passes when they don't try further to erode the standards. Their whole system seems to cater to agribusiness at the expense of us farmer-philosophers who founded the movement.
I operate at every level, from CSA to 4 stores, to 10 restaurants, to a farmers market and wholesale to the Twin Cities. Over 180 varieties of berries, vegetables, herbs, roots, and bulbs grow here, but I tell everyone that the only crop I grow is soil. If you build and balance the soil, everything else is delighted to grow. I grow in deep beds, which only in the last 5 years have been formed by machines. Once the seeds are planted, everything is done by hand. I never spray anything. I am as close to a purist as anyone I know, and my results are amazing. My present interest is teaching my methods to the next generation of organic growers. My local reputation is such that I have no need to be certified, but I have continued to be certified because I sell garlic, shallots, and maple syrup across state lines. I would prefer to disassociate myself from the USDA and their diminishing standards, but have found no way yet to protect my distant customers who don't know me personally.
I have much more to say on these subjects, and I invite you to contact me for an interview if you like. I'd rather not post my telephone number here, but I will provide it if you contact me at . Good luck with your project. It is an important and timely subject. David

Re: Local Certified Organic vs. Local Uncertified Organic    (Posted Wed, Dec 5 '07 at 04:52 UTC)

I was certified organic for 8 years and than the USDA took over and I dropped that certification like a hot potato Oct 31 2003 and have never looked back. I am glad I went through the certification process because I learned exactly what it means to be a certified organic farmer. I am sorry that the USDA NOP has sold out to the big multinational Agri-biz and food corporations. They are in a continual process to water down the regs to make organics easier and cheaper for them, as well as much lower quality for us eaters.

Because I was certified organic my farm is still known regionally as an organic farm (no matter what i say, to the people Boulder Belt is considered organic). marketing is a bit tricky trying to get across to new people that Boulder belt is organic without using the "O" word in my advertising. i will tell people verbally that the food they are buying is organic if they ask but other than that i have been spending a lot of time coming up with synonyms to organic such as "eco-farm" or "sustainable" or "Locally grown" (okay that one is not a synonym to organic but works).

One thing I am seeing more and more is farmers who just 2 years ago were giving me grief over my being organic are now using the "O" word right and left. And these are people who see nothing wrong with using a bit of sevin dust or a squirt or two of roundup on their produce. In other words, folks who do not have an understanding of what organic is about but are using the term simply as a marketing ploy (without going through the hoops that certified organic growers must)

Lucy Goodman Boulder Belt Eco-Farm Eaton, OH
Re: Local Certified Organic vs. Local Uncertified Organic    (Posted Wed, Dec 5 '07 at 11:01 UTC)

Glad to see some input from long-time farmers. I am in my fourth year in this business and I am not planning on becoming certified. I grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota and I understand the squeeze commodity farmers go through. The basic difference, to my mind at least, is between selling at the wholesale commodity level and direct marketing. Of course I use all-organic practices, as that is the proper way to build the soil and ensure clean produce. I like having people out to the farm so they can see what I do and they seem to enjoy it as well. As I have mentioned before on this forum, the certification process seems to be masking the real reason organic produce has taken off, and that reason is face-to-face accountability. In other words, I see third-party certification as a red herring. Selling to distant, or even regional markets is a problem, but I would rather see other approaches tried, such as farmers' faces on the display in the co-op, rather than requiring certification. My current soundbite is, "Organic is obsolete." On another humorous note, I am currently in hot water with some people in a local business organization because I asked the question, "Why would I get in bed with the same government that disrespected us for over 40 years, as well as conducting horrific wars in Vietnam and Iraq?"

Catering to the unique Ferndale perspective.
Re: Local Certified Organic vs. Local Uncertified Organic    (Posted Thu, Dec 6 '07 at 04:57 UTC)

We have operated as a CSA farm since 1994. We considered certification early on but the certifiers, who were busy and somewhat distant wondered why. Why indeed? We know our farm members and they see how we operate every week that they come by. Selling locally to people you know is far better than certification. That said, there are unknowing or unscrupulous marketers out there who claim the organic label at, for example, farmers markets (or in some cases strongly imply an organic stance) without really being organic Or certifiable. Certification does offer third party inspection and verification that can 'take over' when dealing with more commercial markets than we do.

We call ourselves 'organic farmers.' The organic label is a food label that, since we are not certified would be illegal to use. We figure it is not a farmer label, though...

 Pond digger
 Rockwood, TN
Re: Local Certified Organic vs. Local Uncertified Organic    (Posted Sat, Dec 29 '07 at 09:40 UTC)

We are a small family teaching farm that opted not to be certified organic although we operate well above NOS guidelines. We sell our produce from the farmhouse door and attempt to educate our customers about our natural farming practices. We use no type of pesticide, herbicide, fungicide - natural or otherwise in any of our food or land operations. We use the word organic because that is how we operate. We are ethical people and value our integrity. We want our customers to trust us and to that extent we strive to be trustworthy. Most of our customers are not familiar with the term organic (we live in the bible belt and people think we mean orgasmic, which must be a sin!) so there is no $ incentive for us to call ourselves organic if we really were not following organic protocols. For us it is a matter of using the best long-term sustainable, healthy, and economical farming practices.
We irrigate with captured, untreated rainwater.

Living & teaching sustainable, Earth-friendly agricultural practices.
Re: Local Certified Organic vs. Local Uncertified Organic    (Posted Wed, Jan 2 '08 at 10:14 UTC)

We are a certified organic farm that supports the NOP. I have several reasons to support the National Standards that are not often discussed in this forum. I agree with many of the small producers who feel that the Standards are not the best that we, as producers, can do. However, the important thing to keep in mind is that organic producers demanded to be taken seriously by the Department of Agriculture. The gold standard should be local AND organic. Now that we are recognized by the Department of Agriculture there is at least a common language used. Before the Standards were written a consumer in Maine had no way of knowing whether the practices used by his/her producer were what he/she was familiar with in Vermont. Some producers used practices which were unsafe ( using sewage sludge to make compost). Now, we all have a common place to begin. We can, as the first post writer expressed, go over and above the practices demanded by the NOP. We can not , however, not comply with the Standards and maintain certification. There was a problem between certifying agencies. Producers could "shop around" and be certified by an agency with more expertise in one area than another. With the National Standards certifying agencies must be accredited, like a University needs accredidation to be eligible to grant degrees. Now that we are within the Department of Agriculture, we can seek changes: we are eligible for grant money, we can encourage organic research, we may even be eligible for money from carbon-offsets because of the environmental impacts of organic agriculture. The Standards were written in such a way that the producer is called to improve their farming system continuously. That is a tall order for the industrial farming model .
I tell people all the time that the problem with all the small producers abandoning organic agriculture now that it is under the Federal Government is that all that will be left are the big producers. We need to speak up. We need for our consumers to better understand the differences in production methods. We need to continue to be certified and encourage others to do so, as well. If every small producer who was organic before 2002 drops out of the system we will lose the integrity of the intention of organic. That is not what our consumers want. Organic is ultimately about accountability. We produce food this way because we believe it is the right way to eat. The consumers who seek our food understand this. Our consumers have a huge responsibility in this instance. It is up to them whether our farm survives. If they are willing to pay the extra money to pay for certified organic food, then we can continue to operate. If they opt to go with the local but not certified organic producer, we will not survive. Our chicken feed is twice as expensive as "natural" chicken feed. Our chicken feed represents acres of organically managed grain fields. We take our chickens to be processed at a USDA certified organic processor. We do not process them on the farm because we need the processor to be certified as well, for our certification. ( In our state we could process up to 10,000 per year on the farm before one needs to go to a processing facility. ) All of our decisions are reflected in our price. The food critic of our local paper purchased our chicken and wrote in his blog about it. The title of his piece was "World's Priciest Chicken". He went on to question whether or not we were trying to take advantage of our affluent consumer base. At the very end of the piece he described cooking our chicken, with his recipe. He concluded that it was the best chicken he had ever eaten, surpassing his previous best from France. He decided that it was worth the money. I would like to be able to lower my costs, so that I could lower our price. Do I use an inferior, not nutrionally balanced " natural " feed, like all the other small chicken producers in my state? Or do I continue to go that extra mile (literally, we travel our of state for our certified chicken feed) to be certified organic? Right now, we continue to tow the line, and we are committed to being certified organic. It has been difficult. I have discovered that it takes a certain kind of (stubborn) person to be an organic grower. We share many attributes. One that is common is that we do it because we are called to it. There are often esoteric reasons to grow organically. It is not so much an economic decision, as a lifestyle decision.
I hope I have at least represented one aspect of the other point of view, as most of your other respondents. I strongly believe that we, small producers, need to be certified, and I also believe that we, our farm, need all the help we can get. If every small producer "drops out" then we'll ( those that want a just food system) lose the fight, and we just got into the battle!

Earth's Promise Farm
 Pond digger
 Rockwood, TN
Re: Local Certified Organic vs. Local Uncertified Organic    (Posted Wed, Jan 16 '08 at 10:56 UTC)

My colleague from Shelbyville must have a much different operation than our small family farm that sells locally to country folks with limited income earning. Raising vegetables organically does make economic sense in that it is sustainable. We don't particularly want rich yuppies pulling up to our farm in monster SUV's. They can get their produce at upscale chains like whole foods, etc.
We want to introduce chemical free food to our neighbors at reasonable prices.
It never crossed our minds to ask the USDA to take us seriously. If anything, they might request us to take them seriously!

Living & teaching sustainable, Earth-friendly agricultural practices.
Re: Local Certified Organic vs. Local Uncertified Organic    (Posted Wed, Jan 16 '08 at 09:15 UTC)

Sandee is quite articulate and I certainly respect his(or her) viewpoint, even though I am on the other side of the fence. I would like to make one point, though. In the history of American agriculture, several attempts have been made to get all farmers on board so collective action can be taken. It always fails. For example, when I was in high school in the mid-1960's, the National Farm Organization (NFO) tried to get farmers together to withhold hogs from market and they had milk-dumping demonstrations. Nothing was achieved. I see the same problem in trying to get everybody certified. It just won't work. Part of the problem is that farmers are quite independent, part of the problem is that we are competing with each other (yes it's true). I have been trumpeting use of the term "coopetition" locally and use the example of myself and my nearest neighbor. We compete to sell CSA shares, but we still help each other out in many ways. Cooperation + competition = coopetition.

Catering to the unique Ferndale perspective.
Re: Local Certified Organic vs. Local Uncertified Organic    (Posted Wed, Jan 16 '08 at 11:16 UTC)

I stand with wvhaugen on this.....not much differant than the commercial potato growers composting part of the crop to drive pricing in 2006.
The thing to remember about certification ( for me anyway ) is that it is nothing other than a voluntary government tax established to generate revenue like any other tax. They have no real muscle over you unless you choose to join their club. Across the board, at the direct marketing level, certified and non-certified organic produce generate the same revenue for the farm ( in my area ). To have their certification is only about bragging rights under the assumption that it validates a higher standard.

Gnome, I hope you are watching the related thread posting about the farms in Ind. getting letters from the USDA right now. It could be very relevent to your article.

 Carriage House Farm
 North Bend
Re: Local Certified Organic vs. Local Uncertified Organic    (Posted Wed, Jan 23 '08 at 07:07 UTC)

If you are transparent in how you grow your produce and livestock through a combination of small farm tours, local participation and education, newsletters, and the internet (blogs and websites), then the need to label your stuff organic is not needed.

You are the LOCAL source of good healthy food, organic is irrelevant.

You could also label your products as: "Just as tasty and healthy as organic without all the government interference". :)

Richard Stewart Carriage House Farm North Bend, Ohio An Ohio Century Farm
 Spencer, IN
Re: Local Certified Organic vs. Local Uncertified Organic    (Posted Wed, Jan 23 '08 at 08:19 UTC)

I'm glad people "bumped" this very good discussion back up -- several of the comments articulate so well what I have been thinking about USDA and their (mis)appropriation of "organic," especially in light of the recent spate of harassing letters some of us have received.

USDA is totally the handmaiden of BigAg, and these days it is aggressively out to destroy small family farms. Trying to monopolize "organic" for one thing, and now they are gunning to take over control even of "naturally grown." Meanwhile, a much more serious threat looms in the form of NAIS - their infernal National Animal Identification System. I urge everyone to become informed and active in opposing this totalitarian move, which threatens local agriculture like nothing else. I urge everyone to oppose NAIS with complete non-cooperation.

USDA now exists to advance the interests of BigAg, to the detriment of small farmers and the consuming public. They have allowed BigAg to write the "organic" standards to suit themselves, so that for example their CAFO operations can qualify for "organic" labeling. For small farms, they've made "organic" unaffordable in terms of the cost in time and money to belong to their little club.

In short, USDA has become the ENEMY of small family farms, and anyone who operates under any other assumption is living in a dream world. The idea that we should in any way be groveling for USDA to "take us seriously" is hogwash. The only people who should "take us seriously" are the folks in our communities who buy our food (and the way the economy is going, they may soon need us more than ever).

Re: Local Certified Organic vs. Local Uncertified Organic    (Posted Wed, Aug 4 '10 at 12:25 UTC)

The original questions first, though I imagine the radio show is long over. Other comments along the way as they come up:

[[Are you certified? Why or why not?]]

No; because the government has absconded with it. I wouldn't have certified if it were still a private thing, either. Why not? because the government takes control of these types of things to collect more power and influence for itself; private organizations do so in order to be pretentious and self-righteous. I have little patience or tolerance for either the grasping or the sanctimonious.

[[What would you change if you could?]]

Domestic food could not be transported more than 100 miles if crossing state lines. That would make the insufferable nitwits in the cities stop carving up farmland for more and more subdivisions since they'd have to get their food locally to them; it would make them all consider the effects of their NIMBY whimperings; it would have far more effect on land use than anything in US history. ...and it would potentially make the USDA stop catering to a small segment of producer at the expense of 95% of the rest of us.

[[Do you think the USDA standardization of organics was good or bad?]]

Almost all one-size-fits-all solutions are bad, because - as everyone familiar with reality already knows - one size does NOT fit all. Never has, never will. Pretending so will only lead to severe frustration.

Of course, the prior definition of "organic" was no better, just had a different source of definition.

[[I learned exactly what it means to be a certified organic farmer]]

It's not really all that complicated. Takes all of about 2 minutes.

[[the important thing to keep in mind is that organic producers demanded to be taken seriously by the Department of Agriculture]]

The co-opting of "organic" by the USDA was a consumer demand, not a producer demand to "be taken seriously". When consumers demanded their one-size-fits-all, it meant the USDA would be charging for the privilege, and that - more than anything else - limits those who can be certified.

A huge portion of those who are organic producers cannot document it - they don't make soil tests, don't keep the in-depth financial records, and whatever else applies to their specific case. The only ones who do are the seriously pretentious ones, or the corporate farms that everyone loves to hate.

To the degree that small farms are "abandoning" organic farming it is due to the bureaucratic reality that "organics" have abandoned small organic farms. The net result when you bureaucratize ANYthing is that only those who hire a bureaucrat to deal with the bureaucrats are going to survive the transition.

[[USDA is totally the handmaiden of BigAg, and these days it is aggressively out to destroy small family farms.]]

Of course it is; you can't feed a nation of 300+ million without large-scale food production and economy of resources. You are all foolish if you think you can.

What CAN be done, however, is to not have our zoning laws and federal bureaucracies outright punish small farms for daring to not be big. Property values are more important, it seems, than property RIGHTS, yet property values aren't protected by the Constitution. Property rights are ... they're just not protected by the courts.

Ross & Jeannie Laura Lane Lambs
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