Our farm is not certified organic by the USDA and never will be. That’s not because we aren’t farming organically. As far as I know we’re fully eligible for organic certification. We use no herbicides, pesticides, chemicals or poisons. We try to farm as naturally and sustainably as we reasonably can. We make our own fertilizer. I think we’re about as “organic” as a farm can be.
But unfortunately the word “organic” has been largely co-opted by industrial agriculture. We now have “industrial organic”–huge monocultural corporate farms in California and Mexico cranking out vegetables using practices that minimally comply with governmental regulations and thus allowed to bear the stamp “certified organic.” For small farmers, the cost of complying with the government red tape is just too burdensome to be worthwhile. And most of us would prefer not to submit ourselves to goverment inspection just so we can have permission to use a plain word from the English language in its ordinary meaning. So we don’t bother.
To the best of my knowledge none of the farmers at the Danville Farmer’s Market are certified organic. It is now illegal to use the word “organic” to describe your farming practices unless you have government approval (and have filled out all the papers and paid all the fees). One woman who went through the trouble of getting the certification told me that she let it lapse because she was spending all her time filling out forms when she needed to be tending her gardens. Another farmer told me that he chose to identify his farm as “certified naturally grown,” through a self-policing organization of farmers who would rather not submit to the government’s bureaucratic nonsense.
At the last Land and Table meeting we attended in the Bedford area we met some young people who have just moved to Virginia from Washington state to start up a farm of their own. They wondered why so few Virginians are certified organic. In Washington, they said, nearly all the farmers at the farmer’s market have the certification. The Land and Table gathering was composed entirely of folks dedicated to sustainable, natural farming practices and not one of them had sought government certification.
Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm is probably the most famous of the rebels who choose not to get certified. He has chosen to call his farm “beyond organic.” We like that.
I don’t get asked often if we are certified organic, but when I do I explain why we’re not and I also invite the person to come visit our farm and see for themselves how we do things. Try doing that with most of the “farms” which produce the “certified organic” products in the grocery stores.
What is most important is not some government-approved buzzword. What is most important is to get to know the farmers personally. Make sure their family is eating the same food they’re selling to you.
That is the best assurance of quality.