Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Certified Organic...explained

Boy I am surprised at how much misinformation is still out there about Organics. I recently went to a farmers market where the nice lady told me that her golden flax was organic. I asked her where on the package it said "organic" and she proceeded her disertation on how her flax was grown organically and that because she didn't want to be certified she couldn't call it organic. The whole purpose of using the term "organic" is to be able to make the claim that "yes, I use organic practices to grow my produce and yes, I am audited yearly and I pay my substantial fees in order to maintain my organic certification". I get it all the time from farmers I meet that tell me their grain or hay is organic. Almost every time I ask them what certification body they use and you guessed it...turns out they are not actually organic.

I also hear people say all the time that being certified organic doesn't ensure that the produce is any better than non-organic and that anyone can say that they are organic when they are not. That may be true, but if you are not willing to subject yourself to the on-farm audit and subsequent inspections, the paper-trail that connects your food from the field to the consumer or the committment to excellence that is virtually guaranteed from an organic certification then you are probably not following the rules that would make your product organic. It's just common sense. If you are truly doing all of those things then why on earth wouldn't you just pay the fees that get you certified and recoup them in your increased sale proceeds?

Look, there is a very strong committment when you agree to become Certified Organic. The paperwork is extensive, the audit and on-farm inspection is at times intrusive and the fees are sometimes astronomical especially for a small farmer like myself. I take pride in the fact that our farm is indeed Certified Organic.

As a consumer, you will do a great service to actual Certified Organic farmers like myself if you take the time to ask questions from farmers and vendors that claim to be organic.If you want organic produce and someone is telling you that theirs is organic...ask to see their certificate. If they don't have one, and they are calling their produce organic it is illegal. I am always glad when someone asks to see my certification...I worked hard to achieve it and I am proud to show it off.


  1. It is so important for the consumer to be educated. I worked at a soil testing lab that is nearby, and they did all the testing for Oregon Tilth before the NOSB was formed. After the National Organic Standards were implemented more and more dishonest people became certified because it was so easy. Now the buzz phrase is "we use organic methods." I know personally of 3 farms locally that say they are farming organically, which they are, but their soil is contaminated forever for some crops, from prior farming practices. But they keep that part quiet, they don't say they are certified but they are still being dishonest. Makes me glad I can grow my own food, I would only by from a certified grower, otherwise, forget it.

    Great post - the word needs to get out.

  2. So true, lots of lip service paid to "organic". Here we are competing with farmers who are "certified mountain grown" - they even have "transitional mountain grown" etc. Farmer to farmer inspections rather than third party inspections, but it all sounds so convincing...

  3. what is really interesting, is that with the new Canadian Organic Standards that were finally implemented recently, it actually basically says that anyone selling within province is perfectly fine to call their product organic, without any certification whatsoever. It is only when the product is sold outside a province that it needs certification to use the term. It's true that using it, even within province, does put you in the position of undergoing an audit by CFIA, but there are no ramifications unless CFIA finds non-organic practices on farm.
    While I agree that it isn't fair to use the organic term when it's not merited, I can also appreciate the perspective of farmers who are trying to make the most of their product and who are actually making the effort to produce something organically, but don't find the value in paying the expense (and what an expense it is!). As more and more farmers are getting out of agriculture, I would rather see them stay, than be shoved out by more and more expenses. It's a tricky balance, I wonder if we'll ever get it right.