Purging Organic

On my “About” page I no longer describe myself as an organic farmer.  That’s gone from my Disqus profile as well.  Our website and facebook pages no longer say we grow our vegetables organically.

We’ve had to remove the word “organic” from any description of our farm, because we faced stiff fines and a government shutdown of our farm if we didn’t.

We have never sought any government certification of our farm and never will.  We’ve never claimed to be “Certified Organic” by the U.S.D.A and our limited use of the word “organic” has been in its ordinary common meaning and usage.  Nevertheless, that word now belongs to the government it seems, so we purged it.

We were motivated to do so by a friend whose website said he used “organic practices.”  That statement, which was true, got him an $11,000 fine, as did two other true statements on his site which also used the O word.  He immediately changed his site and the fines were suspended. He was given a Cease and Desist Order instead.  As part of their investigation the Organic Police interviewed the manager of the farmers’ market searching for evidence that our friend falsely claimed Certified Organic status–a ridiculous allegation given that he proudly displays his “Certified Naturally Grown” status (a nongovernmental alternative for chemical-free farmers who don’t want to jump through government hoops).  They may have also talked to his customers.

We use no toxins on this farm.  We don’t even use the toxins the U.S.D.A. allows “Organic” farms to use.  I suppose we are, to use Joel Salatin’s term, “beyond organic.”  But actually he probably doesn’t say that about his farm any more.  It’s probably illegal to do so.

 

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47 comments on “Purging Organic

  1. The people who know you trust you– isn’t that one of the precepts of local food– which isn’t to say that the commodification of “organics” and everything that ensues ain’t a problem…. Good post, thanks.

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    • Bill says:

      That’s as it should be. We tell people we encourage “first party certification,” meaning our customers are welcome to come visit our farm and see our practices for themselves. (Consider by comparison industrial farms where it is illegal now in some states to photograph their facilities and animals).

      Obviously it is wrong to mislead people by falsely claiming to use organic practices, but I find the governmental monopoly on the word “organic” (which originated in this sense among counter-cultural farmers) irritating.

      I strongly encourage people to favor local over supermarket “organic.” There are some small farms that are certified organic by the government and I tip my hat to them for doing the paperwork and paying the money necessary for that. But increasingly “certified organic” is becoming another version of industrial agriculture. “Organic” food is generally superior to conventionally produced food, but best of all is locally-produced food using what we were once allowed to call “organic” practices. Those kinds of farms rarely have the government certification.

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  2. rumpydog says:

    How sad. A farmer can spray anything and everything on his or her farm with impunity and not have to do a thing. But a farmer that tries to grow foods in a way that is healthy for people and the planet must pay for the privilege of doing so. Thanks for that Big Ag!

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    • Bill says:

      And industrial ag can use genetically modified ingredients without having to disclose that on the label, while small formerly-known-as-organic farmers have to pay the government for permission to use the word “organic.”

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  3. DM says:

    I also had a run in with a “cease and desist” order last Fall over the use of some words I had chosen for one of my small businesses . Different situation, still ticked me off.

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    • Bill says:

      In my earlier life I was an intellectual property litigator. Been in many battles over words. Had hoped that kind of thing was behind me.

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  4. ain't for city gals says:

    That is just what I was thinking….they can do gmo’s and not have to say a word. There are lots of meanings of organic….to me it can be a noun or verb. Kind of funny….I don’t believe the big ag farms when they say organic that have the gov blessing but I would never doubt a small farmer.

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    • Bill says:

      That’s a good policy I think. Know the farmer and those kind of certifications become irrelevant. Much of what is sold as “organic” these days comes from huge corporations operating monocultures, often subsidiaries or affiliates of some of the worst offenders in industrial ag.

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  5. I understand what is likely the underlying intent — to protect consumers from unscrupulous entities’ deceptive use of the term ‘organic,’ but I wish there were some better (less costly) way for local farmers to certify.

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    • shoreacres says:

      I’m far less sanguine about the “underlying intent.” But that’s just me.

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    • The O word “means nothing” to me in the (“very large”) chain grocery where we have shopped these 30 years in Fairfax County.

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    • Bill says:

      Yes, the intent is to protect consumers from false “organic” claims. They should come down hard on anyone falsely claiming to have the certification. But for small farmers who aren’t claiming to have the government certification but only saying (truthfully) that they use organic practices, things like what happened to my friend are overkill.

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  6. Steve says:

    Squeezed in a vice.

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  7. shoreacres says:

    I just wrote a response to your post in my head. It ran to about 200K words and ended up as little more than a scream of frustration. Agency by agency, they’re doing it to us. Fishing guides and others) in Texas are losing business left and right because of unreasonable limits on their catch. The red snapper season this year is nine days. In 2010 it was 77 days. The originally proposed 40 day season was cut to nine after a commercial fisherman’s lawsuit forced the further reductions. Other catches are being affected by state regulations.

    I’m going to just stop, right here. Mentally, I’m closing in on 300K words, and probably would end up on a watch list because of some of them. i will say that my years in Liberia taught me many things, including how to live under the radar. If someone you’ve never seen shows up at the farmers’ market asking detailed questions about your “organic farm”, just remember: he could be wearing a wire. 😉

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    • Bill says:

      A few years ago there was a push to require all farms to register all their animals with the government (NAIS). There was enough of an uproar among small farmers to cause that law to be made “voluntary.” It seemed we’d won. But I can’t sell a goat at a market now without a tag in its ear that has my “farm number.” It’s voluntary, as long as you don’t try to make a living. Grr…

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  8. I want to say, ‘I’m so damn mad, I can’t see straight,’ but instead I feel … helpless and (almost) hopeless, which is worse, much worse … and what the powers that be count on …

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    • Bill says:

      The best we can do (for now) is as Linda says, live under the radar to the extent possible. I expect we’ll see more alternative economies emerging in the future.

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  9. Seeking Joyful Simplicity says:

    Anger is a good and useful emotion in times like these…it gives us momentum to do something. Even something as simple as buying from our “beyond organic” farmers. We need a food revolution.

    My fear is that someday the GMO labeling will become another monopoly of the food industry.

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    • Bill says:

      “We need a food revolution.” Yes, we do!
      I’m discovering that there are more of us food revolutionaries every day. Vive la revolution!

      Buying from the “beyond organic” farmers is the best practice, in my opinion.

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  10. Jeff says:

    Time to come up with some new words or phrases. Perhaps you should boldly put on your packaging “Not Government Certified” or “Small, Not Big Ag” or “Non-Industrial Agriculture” or “Lawless Agriculture” or “Anti-Corporate Eats” or, heck, there are lots of possibilities. If TPTB want to play word games, I’ll bet we can play better than they can. If enough formerly “organic” farmers adopt words and phrases such as I suggested, the word will get around quickly among the customers as to the meaning of the phrases. As the saying goes, don’t get mad, get even!

    In Florida, I just learned, goat milk can’t be sold without the label “For Pet Use Only”. Shoot, I’d put something else on the label: “For Your Favorite Two-Legged Pet”. It’s time to have fun with these idiots, not to get mad. They count on us getting mad – if we laugh in their faces they won’t know how to deal with it.

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  11. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, it has to be frustrating to deal with the lopsided the government regulations that affect the small homestead operations. The word organic has indeed been practically trade marked by the government and companies are using it as a marketing tool to sell produce at a higher price in the grocery stores. Most stores now have a section of organic food. I really don’t know if the quality of the produce in that section is any more nutritious or any better for us. I’m always leery of perfect blemish free organic produce. From my own experience, organically grown produce will have a few imperfections. Nature does not naturally grow perfect blemish free produce. Well, that’s my observation anyway.

    Have a great organic purging day.

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  12. A long time I have mentioned in reference to Farmers Market the use of “Local” (word) food when it is my understanding that some of the “local” food trucks drive 100 to 200 miles to show up at the VRE (location) on a Saturday. What is the radius beyond which food is no longer “local”?

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    • Bill says:

      There’s no hard and fast rule on what is “local.” I’d say just use common sense on that. One thing is sure–industrial food is not local.

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  13. Could have tried “orgasmic” but I discovered that’s already taken! http://www.writersreps.com/feature.aspx?FeatureID=143

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  14. Farmgirl says:

    Unbelievable. There is quite a war on small farms and the old way of doing things. We must remember that we are doing what is right though. I better get on my site and facebook and remove the O word!!

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    • Bill says:

      I’m sorry to say you really do need to that. It could be a problem for you if you don’t. We have hundreds of rack cards/brochures that mention how we converted our land using “all-natural, organic, chemical-free methods and practices.” I don’t think we can safely use them any more.

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  15. Jeff says:

    If Samuel Butler had Erewhon, we can have some variation on Cinagro. Foods produced cinagrowically. All Cinagro. Fine Cinagro foods. When TPTB outlaw cinagro, then it becomes cingro or something else. Keep ’em tied up guessing which way it will go next!

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  16. bobraxton says:

    RumpyDog – response: my body is, has always been and always will be wholly Organic – from burst waters to pyre.

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  17. associatedluke says:

    Maybe just use “We’re a Salatinesque Farm” Who knows… my gawd do we like to complicate simple things.

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  18. Sad. I would say “locally grown without pesticides.” Or do you have to certify you aren’t using pesticides. Or how about “Locally Grown… the way nature meant it to be.” Let them try to challenge that. –Curt

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    • Bill says:

      I’ve seen some farms with signage saying, “No Pesticides, No herbicides.” That’s fine, but we also don’t use fungicides or synthetic fertilizers. At some point you just want a word or phrase that captures it all.

      I really like “the way nature meant it to be.” That’s good.

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  19. EllaDee says:

    What a dance it is with Regulators and Big Ag continually insisting on directing the steps… Really you should not be prevented from using the word “organic” in its ordinary common meaning and usage but because of manipulating of key money spinner descriptors by Big Business they no longer have authentic currency anyway.
    Sadly due diligence is the key, and we food revolutionaries are on to the hollow claims and pretty pictures selling the Industrial Organic dream to the unaware public.
    So long as you are true to your principles, that’s what matters… stick and stones may break my bones but names don’t mean anything any more.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Certifications really should only matter when you’re shopping in a supermarket. If I want organic coffee, for example, it helps to have some reliable certification to help assure I’m getting it. But if we buy locally where ever possible, from farmers we know and trust, then certifications are unnecessary.

      As for Big Ag co-opting the word, it makes me less likely to buy “organic” rather than more likely. I think more and more people are having that reaction. Local matters much more than the government certification.

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  20. shoreacres says:

    I just bumped into this, re: the Virginia DMV. Looks like everyone’s catching regulatory fever.

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    • Jeff says:

      That’s because “everyone” has been captured by the vested interests, in this case, taxicab companies. The State doesn’t work for us, it works for the 1%. It is the one percent.

      “Virginia’s move to immobilize Uber and Lyft puts it on par with cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, where taxicab companies have wielded their influence to try to halt competition.”

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      • competition? heaven forbid. Seems that I heard far away and long ago about something called “free enterprise” (apparently it is “free” – except when it’s not)

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    • Bill says:

      Interesting. I was unaware of that. I heard recently on a podcast that pirate taxi companies using cell phone apps are thriving in Detroit, where alternative economies are springing up to fill the void left by the collapse of the old one.

      Like

  21. […] Purging Organic.  We had to purge the word “organic” from our website, social media and marketing […]

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