How Do I Certify My Farm as Organic?

Reader Contribution by Rhonda Janke

How do I certify my farm as “organic”?

Jolie Tune
Manhattan, Kansas

What is organic anyway? That is the topic for another day, but requires excellent record keeping, soil improvement, and doesn’t allow farmers to use genetically modified seeds, sewage sludge, soluble commercial fertilizers or synthetic pesticides.

To get certified organic, first become familiar with the new organic guidelines. Beginning in 2002, everyone must follow the new national guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture if they use the word organic, or be subject to a $10,000 fine. The center for Appropriate Technology Transfer to Rural Areas, known as ATTRA, has an 800 number hotline (800-346-9140) and a great website with publications about organic practices. A full copy of the national organic standards, frequently asked questions, and a list of certifying agencies can be found at the National Organic Standards website.

If you like good, old fashioned person-to-person help with this, your agricultural university has an extension system with state and county staff to help. Find their directory and the nearest agriculture or horticulture agent to where you live, and give them a call. They may be able to answer your questions directly, or can send you to someone who can. They may also be able to pair you with an experienced local organic farmer to walk you through the steps, a local certifying group, workshops, field days, or other meetings to help you get the information you need. Your university may also have online or print fact sheets about how to get certified.

There is one exception under which you can use the word “organic” and not be certified – if your gross sales of organic product is less than $5,000 per year. Then you fall under the “small farm exception,” and may use the word organic, but not “certified organic” in your sales and promotions, provided that you are of course following the organic guidelines.

— Rhonda Janke, Associate Professor of Horticulture, Kansas State University