Organic Certification - Yes or No?
I have been doing extensive research over the past week to learn more about the organic certification process. I am considering applying for organic certification of the farm.
I've started to blog about the organic certification process because I know there are others who are deciding whether or not to attempt certification, and may have experienced the same confusion, frustration or misconceptions. I did not know where to begin, so I began at the USDA website. Although it has lots of information, links and resources, it is confusing and not very helpful explaining the process and providing direction. It's a shame that I find much more useful information on private websites. As someone who used to work for the federal government, I'll knock them when it's due. If anyone in the USDA or NOP reads this, I would be happy to give you some direct constructive feedback.
But back to the farm. We have been using organic practices on the farm for four years, and because we sell less than $5K of products per year (mostly eggs), we are allowed to use the term organic. This is an exception to the rules that allows small-scale, backyard and hobby farms to use "organic" without the time-consuming and expensive process of becoming certified. However, we are not certified, and cannot use the USDA Organic seal, shown below.
I now believe that taking the steps to get the farm certified organic will give us a competitive edge and provide what our customers want, as we start to grow and sell more food. We have had many of our egg customers ask if we sell any other organic items. We have had inquiries through the Local Harvest website asking if we sell organic fruits and vegetables. Not just fruits and vegetables; but organic fruits and vegetables. The demand is certainly there. Even for those who are just seeking local products, organic certified will be a bonus.
To back up a few steps, I became more interested in certifying the farm as organic after being inspired at the Mother Earth News Fair I attended this month in Albany, Oregon, and from watching Urban Farmer Curtis Stone's YouTube videos on organic topics.
By the way, if you are reading this, you likely have some interest in farming, so I would highly recommend Urban Farmer Curtis Stone's YouTube channel and website. In my opinion, he provides the most organized, thorough and useful information in his videos on small-scale farming. His content is very detailed and he demonstrates his methods, time saving devices and tools, and many ideas for the business side of farming as well. This may seem like a shameless plug for Curtis, but honestly, I have no dog in the fight. I have been watching farming and homesteading videos for years and his are simply the best and most useful videos. He farms in Canada, but will be coming to San Tan Valley in October to provide a workshop. If I can afford to attend, I certainly will.
After being inspired to expand our farm and investigate the organic certification process, I have learned two things that corrected my misconceptions. First, it not nearly as expensive as I thought it was going to be. I am waiting for some price quotes from organic certifiers and will post more information when I have it. But based on my research, and the size of our small farm, I may be able to get 'er done for $750-$1000. The second thing I discovered is that is going to be extremely time-consuming to document and complete all the paperwork, so I need to determine what my time is worth and if I can get an adequate ROI.
As I said earlier, I have been following organic practices. I use organic seed. We don't use pesticides or any of the other items on the list of prohibited substances. We have our compost pile "cooking" for at least 120 days before using it to grow edibles. I even have diagrammed a basic farm plan (see below). The problem resides in the fact that I have not kept good records, well let me be honest, they are terrible. I'd always rather be working on the farm than record keeping. Now that will come back to bite me. It is going to be very time consuming (and painful) to document everything including historical purchases and other records. But since it is something I know I need to do anyway if I'm going to run the farm as a business, that's the good that will come out of this painful process.
Stay tuned for the next part, where I'll describe in more detail what I have learned about the certification process.
What do you think? Do you look for the USDA organic seal on products? If you grow and sell, have you considered the certification or gone through the process? Let me know.