Monday, March 25, 2013

Certified Organic at GFF (part II)

Periodically, we are asked if we are organic.  We answer positively that we certified organic.  Of course, the next question to us is - what's the difference between organic and certified organic?

The simple answer is this - technically, something can't be marketed as organic unless it is certified as organic.  The exception is if a grower sells less than $5000 in product during a year.  In that case, they may apply for and receive an exemption, but should still follow all the rules.

Click here our first post in the series.

The first installment is an attempt to summarize all it takes for us to certify our vegetable production as organic. We thought we'd discuss a few specific things that may be of interest to others that pertain directly to our farm.

2. Use substances in production that can be found in an approved list.

In my last post, I noted that this means sprays are NOT prohibited.  But, let me clarify - most sprays are not on this list.  More specifically, the synthetics are not there. It is certainly possible, however, to find herbicides, insecticides and other items that are on the list of allowed inputs for an organic operation. Which is why we encourage you to get to know your farmer and how they do what they do. Seeing the organic certification is the first step towards knowing what is important to them. But, it is not the final word as to how well they protect the land or how clean their product might be for your consumption. Simply put, if I needed to buy food products and the only options were organic or non-organic, I would buy organic because there is some regulation in place for the food producer that I support. But, if I have the option of buying locally where I can learn something about the practices used by the producer, I will typically choose that - assuming, of course, that I agree with enough of their practices.

Putting it another way - there are people who are certified organic that don't do it well and don't have their hearts in the right place. Similarly, there are local growers that don't do things the way I would prefer they did. By paying attention to who I buy from, I can work to support practices I find agreeable and responsible.

What do we believe?
We don't believe in using pesticides and herbicides.  And, if you want reasons for this, we'll cover it at a later point in time - or you can refer back to other things we've written in this blog or elsewhere.

You would think fulfilling our obligations on point two should be easy since we hold this stance about these sorts of sprays.  But, remember, the answers aren't so easy.  This list applies to any input for the farm.  This includes soil for seed starting, cleaning solutions and mulches.  In other words, we must consider any input to be used on our farm carefully and we can't just take someone's "word" that a product is "organic."

And, there are some inputs that are permissible on a certified organic farm that we are not comfortable with using on our farm.  For example, many farms have taken to using plastic mulch.  This is allowed as long as that mulch is removed each season (it typically would only last for one growing season anyway).  We're not entirely comfortable with how plastic might adversely impact the biology in the soil, so we choose not to use it.  Instead, we try to use organic mulches such as straw, grass and more recently, paper.

What does this mean for us?

The decisions we make about inputs on our farm are largely based on how we feel about the impacts they might have on our soil and the surrounding environment.  There are a number of practices that we subscribe to that are not necessarily embraced by other growers due to cost or efficiency reasons.  And, we readily admit that there are some things we do that may not provide us with the best bottom line.

On the other hand, we also do not assume that the financials provide us with the true "bottom line" for our farm.  There are other things of value (tangible and otherwise) that are not easily measured by a profit margin.  So, we try to assess whether these benefits are sufficient to offset what might have been lost profit.

The other exception we make is for things we believe can be *made* to be efficient or profitable.  In these cases, we have decided not to follow the current conventional wisdom as we work to figure out if our alternatives can be made to work successfully.  We are willing to sacrifice some of our bottom line results in the hopes that we can find the way to make some of our ideas work in an effort to reach our ideals. 

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