This is not a regional dilemma, either, It is happening in many places. I know people who are small organic growers in other states and we can discuss this subject like we live side by side. Well meaning people who think that they are helping small farmers, by leading them to customers, are actually creating a climate of misrepresentation, misinformation and mistrust between the very people they are trying to help. Kind of like the missionaries who went out and nearly destroyed cultures in their overzealousness and disregard for anybody's ideology except for their own.
There is a huge problem within the local and organic food movement that most people simply don't see or understand. Sometimes I think that they don't want to see it because they don't bother to educate themselves about the true concepts and principles of growing organic food and have no idea what the difference is between something that is truly organically grown and something that is locally grown, but conventional. Many people are so caught up in the almost hysterical local food movements that they fail to take an honest, objective look at how things really are.
|Unfortunately, anytime there is an economic demand for a product, impostors sometimes begin to spring up at an alarming rate. This is the situation that many small certified organic farmers are encountering with more and more regularity when trying to market their goods. At farmer's markets, roadside stands, buying clubs and other venues, there are unscrupulous growers who claim to be "almost organic" or to be using "organic methods". Generally, these growers are using these phrases as a kind of "smoke and mirrors" labeling to confuse consumers into thinking that they are getting an organic product when, in fact, many times nothing could be further from the truth. |
If you are going to grow and market your produce as organic, what would be the sense of being "almost" organic. You either are or you aren't. There is no gray area here but because there is so much misinformation circulating concerning what the concept of organic means to the consumers, most people have no idea what they are actually getting, even when they are paying a premium price for these bogus "organic" goods.
Some of these farmers have no real clear idea of the disservice they are doing to the concepts of organic farming. Of course, some of them just don't care...anything for a buck. But many of them simply do not have access to or completely comprehend the organic standards of the National Organic Program. Just because you didn't spray noxious chemical pesticides on your crops in no remote way makes you an organic grower, nor does it adhere to the organic method. This system of agriculture is a synergistic partnership between the grower, the environment and a deep respect and philosophical understanding of what this partnership requires.
Part of the organic method requires the support and establishment of habitat for beneficial insects, birds and other helpful creatures. It is not about controlling nature but rather finding the balance between what nature creates and working within that creation. It requires strong faith in the perfect order of all things in nature and to work with and within the natural cycles that occur. The truest principles of organic farming are not about commerce, they are about a deep and abiding love of Mother Earth and about taking our earthly stewardship responsibilities very seriously. It's really not all about the money.
Because the demand for organic products far outstrips the supply, there is pressure for performance and with that always comes the temptation to circumvent the regulations. That is an unfortunate consequence of capitalism. There will always be those who see the chance to make more money and will do whatever they can to tap into the organic marketplace. The ideals of the organic movement which I have been a part of for over 40 years of my life are being trampled on and it makes me angry that something that so many of us worked so hard for is being bastardized the way that it is.
Sadly, it is the negative stories that make the headlines and give people the impression that certified organics should be looked upon with skepticism. This tiny percentage of producers has tainted public opinion, thanks to the media's bias toward the sensationalization of the negative aspects of anything. The part of the story that is never told is that the majority of small certified organic growers are honest, hardworking and highly principled or they wouldn't be certified in the first place. If you are going to talk the talk, you better be able to walk the walk, when it comes to calling your product organic. We became certified to show our solidarity with other organic farmers and to help to give a voice to the small family farmer.
There is an exemption from certification for legitimate very small organic growers. These producers are allowed to call their products organic, provided that they meet the specifications for this exemption. Part of the onus of responsibility for these non-certified organic growers is to keep the exact same paperwork and follow the exact same rules that certitied growers use. Only then is the exemption legitimate.
Ergo, the requirements to legally label a product as organic (non-certified) by falling under this exemption category, is exactly the same as a certified grower. All they are exempt from is inspection and paying for certification, which incidentally is not expensive at all. This is another common argument for not being certified that is completely false...most certifiers have caps on what they can charge and the USDA offers financial assistance to help with the costs of certification.
Since the other most common argument against certification among these pseudo-organic growers is that the paperwork is too burdensome for them to bother with, that is the one of the very things that gives away their lack of knowledge about organics or points to the misrepresentation of exactly what they are doing. If anything, the records we are required to keep only take minimal amount of time. We are able to use our own method of recordkeeping, as long as we have the correct documentation. Having these detailed records of what we do year to year has proven to be an invaluable tool for the efficient management and operation of our farm.
So, the only way to be certain that you are, in fact, getting what you are paying for is to ask for the grower's certification or to question their methods. It is your right to know. Organic certification is your assurance that the grower has done his or her due dilligence in order to obtain that certification. Third party certifiers for the USDA inspect farms to make sure that they are following what amounts to the strictest food growing standards in the world today.
And the growers are not the only ones at fault with regard to misinformation about organics. A majority of consumers don't really know exactly what they are seeking when it comes to organics and so the waters are muddied even further. Lots of consumers are really looking for fresh, local produce, not truly organic produce and this lack of distinction between two very different products feeds the cult of misinformation about organics that abounds at farmer's markets, etc.
Exactly what does the USDA CERTIFIED ORGANIC label actually mean to the consumer? The following link will take you to brief outline lists some of the key points that make certification of a producer/product important to anyone who eats organic food. Certified versus Non-Certified