What does “Organic” mean?

In the most basic terms, Organic means that something is grown in a natural state as intended by nature.  This would exclude all synthetic products including fertilizer, pesticides and GMOs.  In the 20th century, ‘organic’ was arbitrary and poorly defined so the USDA got involved early in this century and set up guidelines.  They virtually put a patent on the word, “organic”, in that the only people that could use the word to describe their product were those that were “certified organic”.  The NOP (National Organic Program), a subsidiary of the USDA, has authorized over 50 entities to be ‘organic certifiers’.  None of them are based in VA.  The certifiers are continually monitored and audited by NOP.  To become certified organic, the farmer must keep a bunch of crop and field records.  Any field must have a 3 year history of organic practices.  There is about a 50 page application that needs to be filed with a certifier along with payment.  A lot of the application is somewhat repetitive  but it is very precise to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.  If the paperwork is good, they will send out an inspector that will gather information on records, field layout and verify buffers.  The authorized person back at the main office will issue the certificate if everything is clear.  If not, they could ask questions or re-send an inspector.  I was the first grower to be issued an organic cerfificate in PW County on August 1, 2011.  To maintain an organic certificate, the grower must fill about 30 pages of renewal and submit to inspection every year.

Once a grower gets an ‘organic certificate’ they can call their product organic.  The only exception is for gardeners that wish to sell small amounts with gross sales under $5,000/year.  They are still subject to all the record keeping requirements.  If a grower violates the rule and labels product as organic that is not, they are subject to a $10,000 fine.  Unfortunately, NOP is very lax on enforcement.

You may have heard folks say that organic products still get sprayed with junk.  There is a sliver of truth there.  NOP rules allow products to be applied IF they have the OMRI (Organic Materials Research Institute) approval label and IF it is preappr0ved by the certifier.  All the materials approved by OMRI occur naturally in nature…somewhere.

So how do you know if your potential purchase has OMRI stuff on it?  You’d have to ask the grower.  A lot of it does, mine does not.  I do have some OMRI products but I have never used them.  I also have a clean dedicated sprayer that has never been used.  I even have permission from my certifier to apply my OMRI stuff….but don’t.  My inspector has renewed confusion every year when we broach the subject.  I simply tell them it is my safety net.  An analogy is one driving around with a spare tire in the car.  You hope you never have to use it, but when you need it, it sure is nice to have it on standby….same thing.

Everyone that has received my Co-op proposal also got a copy of my latest Organic Certificate.  I am a big proponent of visibility.  I believe it is very important that you can see where your food comes from.  More on that in another post.