[Market-farming] "organic": actual USDA regulations

New Branch Farm newbranch at ntelos.net
Wed Jul 25 15:03:04 EDT 2007

On Jul 24, 2007, at 4:01 PM, Sharon and Steve wrote:
> ....... To be certified is to be no better than the mega growers
> like Earthbound, Horizon or "Mission Organics, a supplier to Natural
> Selection Foods"( the most likely supplier of the problem sipnach)  
> which I
> think I can assure you that the organic founders never had in mind.
> I think the organic founders had in mind that the consumer should  
> know their
> grower, visit his farm, see his work, understand his pholisophy,  
> and buy his
> product; to think that having the government list the hoops to be  
> jumped
> through to gain the use of a magic word thereby imporving the diet and
> health of the nation is utter bullshud.

I wanted to share the perspective of a small farm that is certified  
organic. Our farm is 6 acres with about 1 acre currently growing  
vegetables, flowers, and herbs.  The majority of the produce I sell  
directly to customers at area Farmers' Markets.  I have many regular  
customers and openly share how I farm. The majority of certified  
organic farms I am familiar with are all small farms (15 acres or  
less) and all are selling locally, directly to customers via farmers  
markets or CSA’s.  They are a far cry from the large organic farms on  
the west coast that wholesale to stores across the country with no  
connection to the folks who buy their food.

Like many I was frustrated when organic certification became a  
federal program under the USDA:  the national organic program (NOP).   
I would have preferred the various certifiers to have worked together  
and created a program on their own without the involvement of the  
government.   However, I continue to get certified.  On our farm  
website, there is a whole page devoted to organic certification and I  
go into more detail about all the reasons I choose to get certified.   
Here is the link if you want to see more:

It is important to remember that while the program is now federal  
(the standards are written into national law and the NOP oversees  
certifiers), the bulk of the certification work is done by one of the  
NOP accredited certifiers and that farmers can choose which certifier  
to work with.  Currently there are over 90 accredited certifiers with  
the NOP and these certifiers include "for profit" companies,  
"nonprofits", and state agencies.  Some only certify in one state but  
several certify farms throughout the country.  Some are relatively  
new to certification while others were some of the first to certify  
farms in the 1970's.  Just like with farms, there are rules and a  
process to become an accredited certifier.  Here is the list of  
current certifiers from the NOP website: http://www.ams.usda.gov/NOP/ 

While all certify to the same NOP standards and are accredited by the  
NOP, certifiers vary in their philosophy, experience, and fees. I  
chose a certifier who is a nonprofit (Stellar Certification Services)  
and has a history and understanding of organics that pre-dates the  
NOP.  I found some of the “nonprofit” certifiers had lower fees than  
the “for profit” certifiers.  All the paper work you submit annually  
is kept with the certifier (not the USDA) and it is the certifier who  
sends out the inspector and determines if you are certified based on  
the NOP standards. Many of the earlier groups who were promoting the  
organic movement and certifying farms long before the NOP are still  
accredited certifying agents today (like the NOFAs, MOFGA, OEFFA,  
CCOF, etc).

I think the decision of whether to get certified organic is a  
personal decision each individual farm must make on their own.   
However, as was mentioned in several earlier posts, I would also  
agree that if a farm claims to use organic practices they should at  
least be respectful enough to understand what organic means by  
reading the NOP organic standards.  Like others, I find it  
frustrating when folks claim they use organic practices or are  
"beyond organic" yet when they describe their farming practices it  
becomes clear they have never read the NOP standards, much less  
followed them.  Thanks for letting me share my perspective.

Stephanie Meyers
Charlottesville, VA

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