A Guide to Organic Growing and Shopping

A guide to organic growing and shopping, including labeling choices, how to get certified practices and information on the organic farming business.

| August/September 2002

This guide to organic growing and shopping helps farmers understand the ins and outs of organic farming certification.

Guide to Organic Growing and Shopping

When my husband and I began selling produce at farmer's markets 15 years ago, we hung up a big green-and-yellow banner that proclaimed "Organic Produce." Then we, spent the rest of the summer explaining to curious customers what organic means.

A lot has changed since then. The non-fanning public is now well acquainted with the concept of organic: According to a recent study, 63 percent of Americans buy organic foods and beverages at least some of the time. Eight out of every 10 adults realize organic products must be grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or added hormones. Sales of organic products increased by more than 20 percent every year during the 1990s, passing $9 billion last year. Organic has achieved star status.

So when beginning farmers ask our advice about how to succeed in market gardening, we always say, "Go organic." New growers need every advantage they can get, and the organic label provides higher prices for food and a marketing edge that can mean the difference between selling produce and composting it. For us, organic certification has opened the doors to the finest restaurants in town and to the local natural food stores. Our "organic" banner at farmer's markets set us apart from other growers and eventually created a following of loyal customers, which in turn allowed us to start a community supported agriculture (CSA) program, now in its ninth year.

But even more important is the fact that organic production is safe for people and the environment. Like most market gardeners, we live where we farm: We want our home to be a place of beauty and wellness. We don't want to have to keep our kids and pets indoors during the re-entry interval - the safety time required after pesticide use. We don't want to contaminate our ponds and groundwater with synthetic fertilizers. Our goal has always been to grow wholesome food in a system that respects our natural environment, and organic farming has been the way to do that.

Organic Farming: That was Then, This is Now

Although organic certification has been good to us in the past, the entire organic farming business is in the midst of sweeping change, and the future isn't entirely clear. Beginning in October, organic no longer will be just a system of beliefs and practices, but instead will be a federally regulated food label. The Organic Food Production Act, passed by Congress in 1990, will finally take effect, and it will become a federal offense to sell food as organic if it doesn't meet the federal organic standards.

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