There is so much we can discuss with respect to organic certification, but the key is for us to share with you how we see organic certification on our farm. A key item that we feel we should make clear before the season really gets going is how last year's spraying "event" impacts our certification.
If you do not know what I am talking about with respect to the 'spraying event' you can see our most recent post about it here:
Spraying Event Post
Our first two posts on certified organic are here:
An overview of what it takes to certify organic
How we interpret and apply organic principles with respect to inputs on the farm.
The organic 'rule' number 4:
Production land must have been transitioned for three years after ANY non-approved substance has been applied before anything from it may be certified organic. Efforts to avoid contamination (including buffers) are required.
There are two things everyone might like to know about with respect to this section. First - the unwanted spray applied on the West half of our farm on July 27, 2012 kicks that part of the farm into 'transitional' status. In other words, until July 27, 2015, we cannot sell anything from that part of the farm as certified organic. But, in the meantime, if we wish to recertify that half in 2015, we must continue to follow all organic regulations on that half of the farm.
Can we grow in the sprayed area?
This does not mean we cannot grow produce in that area. But, it does mean we must be careful not to label any of that produce as organic. In fact, since most of our produce will still be certified, we may go a bit overboard just to be sure no one thinks we're trying to break the rules. In effect, our sweet corn and pie pumpkins will not be certified organic. Nothing from the high tunnel can be certified organic (this one really hurts). Our poultry will graze on pastures that were sprayed last year, so they cannot be certified organic. Most of our perennial herbs are in the West half of the farm and a small batch of asparagus are there as well. All other produce will be certified organic -which will be a sizable portion of our farm's production.
Product safety - can we eat this?
Will the produce and poultry grown in the west half of the farm be safe for consumption? We believe that they will be safe since we have taken actions to help the system cleanse itself and the half-life of the products sprayed indicate they should have broken down. We will not introduce any other poisons to the system and will continue to treat these areas as we treat the rest of the farm (with exceptions noted below). To be perfectly frank, this produce, eggs and meat will be as clear of chemical residue as most produce you can find in the state. But, we need to inform you of it, because this area WAS sprayed. There is a reason there is a three year setback for transition, so we still have to consider the possibility that there is residue from that event. That may lead to another post in the future.
Extra work required with split operation.
But, we are required to do additional work since some of our product will be certified and some will not. For example, any containers used to harvest produce in the transition area must be cleaned before being used in the certified organic areas. This holds true for farm equipment and tools. We will have to maintain separate tracking records and we must fill out additional forms for our certification process for the next couple of years.
What else are we doing to address the spray problem?
We are charged with working to avoid contamination of our crops. Clearly, we cannot be prepared to stop any contingency - last I looked it was illegal to put giant plane-catching nets around our farm.
The buffer zone is a work in progress for us. Some parts of the farm are surrounded by bush plantings, but not all. We continue to work to put in more bushes in an effort to provide some vertical buffer space. The entire farm has a buffer area (space that is adjacent to our neighbor's fields) that is intended to absorb any unintentional drift of their inputs. The thing that bothers us about this is that we must maintain a buffer, but they do not have to. This, too, is fodder for another post on another day.
We also contact our neighbors, the coops they might use and any other party that may have something to do with chemical applications in the area. In fact, the list of things we try to do is reasonably long. Suffice it to say, we do what we can.