Why I am NOT certified Organic.

What do you think when you see this label ?

  • Food grown by hippie farmers?
  • Products certified to be grown using environmentally sound growing methods?
  • Food from farms that follow a USDA regulatory regime certifying that they only use products from an approved list--a list which is drawn up by the Organic Standards Board to exclude non-biological substances no matter the ecological (or, the logical) reason?

Of course, if you've read about my growing and selling practices, you know I think it's the latter.

I recently received an email that so clearly demonstrates the thinking of USDA ORGANIC that I wanted to share it with you. We use paper pots to transplant some crops, and various small-farm groups are petitioning to get these paper pots approved for use on Organic farms. You might think this would be a slam dunk, especially since the use of paper is already allowed under Organic rules. But can paper be allowed...as a pot? Recycled paper is currently okay, but what about the use of...non-recycled paper?

Here's the email I received from someone working to to get paper pots approved (edited for length and clarity):

Over the course of many phone calls and meetings, I have learned that while the initial concern regarding the paper chain pots was the resins used, a fundamental issue is that the use of paper as a paper pot is not part of the Organic rule. The Organic rule currently only addresses the use of paper as a mulch or as an ingredient in compost. So, before ANY paper pot product can be approved, the Organic rule needs to be amended to allow the use of paper as a paper pot.

The petition being submitted requests that the Organic Standards Board approve the use of non-recycled paper for use in paper transplant pots. Currently, the allowance of paper is restricted to “newsprint and other recycled paper.” It is the contention of those submitting the petition that non-recycled paper should also be allowed. Not surprisingly, a large number of additives, resins, glues, inks, and other materials are commonly found in paper. Given that “recycled paper” comes from “non-recycled paper” the petition argues that paper-use on organic farms should not be restricted to only recycled paper.

Government regulation in general serves a critical purpose in protecting things that our country values, but which businesses value less than profit. The Organic regulation serves a critical purpose in providing a financial reason for agribusiness to use less-destructive methods. In the past I have seriously considered going for Organic Certification, but I know that I wouldn't be able to put up with this kind of ridiculousness when my reason for certifying would be to communicate to customers that my farm uses non-exploitative, environmentally-sane farming practices. Unlike big business, I can talk to my customers directly, rather than communicating through the regulatory label. When you buy from big business, I do hope you look for the Organic label. But when you buy from local farmers like me, I hope you will just talk with them about what you care about, rather than finding meaning in the Organic regulatory label–a label riddled with exceptions favoring the practices of the large agribusinesses who have more “money,” ie, “speech,” a label whose meaning is being eroded by the agribusiness reps who sit on the Organic Standards Board hoping to someday permit even GMOs under Organic.

The more ubiquitous Organic products become in national supermarkets, the more customers look for that label in their local farmers market and other small-business settings. And when this increasing customer demand for the Organic label drives local direct-marketing farmers to certify under a program guided by and most appropriate for big business, agribusiness has won. This is why I am not certified Organic, and why I encourage you not to care about such labeling when buying food from people like me.

Trust your farmer, not the label.