I’m not a fan or advocate of USDA organic certification. That comes as no surprise to those who have been reading this blog for a while.
I’m sometimes asked whether we are “certified organic.” After saying we aren’t, I usually like to tell folks that the best way to certify a farm’s practices is to meet the farmers and visit the farm. This, I was recently told by Cherie, is “first person certification.”
To the best of my knowledge we satisfy all the requirements for USDA organic certification. But we have elected not to seek the government’s approval to use the word “organic” and to submit ourselves to all the red tape and associated governmental invasions.
I’m not aware of any farms in this area that are certified organic. A couple of years ago there was one nearby but the woman who ran it told me that she found that she was spending so much time with paperwork that she didn’t have enough time left to farm. So she let the certification lapse.
There are plenty of us though who farm organically, albeit sans certification.
Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms is probably the most famous natural farmer in the country. He has long been an outspoken critic of federal organic certification and has never sought it. He likes to say that Polyface is “beyond organic.” In this part of the country it seems that most of us share his philosophy and decline to invite the federal government into our farms any more than necessary.
Earlier this year we met some recent college graduates from Oregon who had moved to Virginia to take up organic farming. When I asked why, they said that there is a multiyear waiting list to get into farmers’ markets there, so it’s much easier to get started here. That is fodder for another post.
They said they were surprised when they got here to find that no one was certified organic, whereas in Oregon nearly all the farms were. That speaks to the much differing degree of libertarian thinking that must exist between Virginia and Oregon, I think.
Having said all that, I recognize that there is value to certifications as the distance between the producer and the consumer (that is to say, between the farm and the table) increases. It is just not always possible to do first person certifications. So some institutional certifications are helpful for folks as they make their food choices.
So we are considering becoming Certified Naturally Grown. One of the farms that is part of our local alliance of chemical free farms has the certification and the farmer is a passionate advocate of it. The certification is policed by fellow farmers and the USDA is not involved. It seems a reasonable way to give some level of assurance to consumers, without having to submit to organic certification.
But first person certification remains the best certification, by far. I like to ask people if they would put their children in a day care center without visiting it and meeting the teachers first, 0r whether they would rely only on a government stamp of approval. If the answer is no, then I suggest that they should take the same care in choosing the food for their children that they’d take in choosing their daycare.