When we write and talk about what we are growing at Green Farms and how we are growing it we are careful to use the term all-natural to explain our products as opposed to organic. This different nomenclature has brought up a number of questions from our friends so we thought we should make the distinction between the different terms. The criteria that enables a USDA certified organic label is a lengthy set of regulations provided by that government agency. For all of the particulars the source is on the USDA website in the National Organic Program section but here are some of the highlights for growing produce:
- · Production without the use of synthetic substances except those on an approved list.
- · Production without the use of ionizing radiation.
- · Production without the use of sewage sludge.
- · Land that hasn’t had prohibited substances applied to it for at least 3 years and has distinct boundaries and buffer zones from prohibited substances.
- · Soil management practices that improve or maintain soil organic matter content.
- · A specific carbon to nitrogen ratio for the soil
- · Organic planting stock
You get the picture. There are pages of regulatory requirements to get USDA certification but that certification still allows the use of certain synthetics and has a ream of reporting requirements. Indiana has its own set of regulations for organic that we won’t delve into here but you can get the details from the Indiana Department of Agriculture if you happen to be a policy wonk. It really is a tricky process though in a world with an ecosystem that is linked in so many ways. The impact of an action not in the immediate vicinity of an organic crop can nevertheless detrimentally affect it. For instance, an organic urban farm in Michigan learned that the soil on its farm was being tainted by chemical effluents being illegally discharged at a nearby industrial facility. Given that so many urban farms are near industrial uses this creates a whole new set of problems. The only reason this particular illegal discharge was disclosed was a conscientious whistleblower. It’s a mystery how many undiscovered illegal toxic discharges may be occurring. Thus, a farm can be abiding by organic practices but still be contaminated by sources outside of the farmer’s control. Another instance of this is what is happening to many organic farms that are in proximity to traditional farming operations. Genetically modified seeds – which are prohibited in organics – and chemical pesticides are drifting onto organic farms and tainting those crops. When crops are grown outdoors it is hard to prevent cross-contamination. Basically, the USDA organic certification has the right principals in place but it is very challenging to keep those qualities intact.
When the term natural is applied to growing techniques it can mean so many things. Whole Foods allows GMOs in their products they deem to be ‘natural’ according to the National Health Federation. Many growers who use organic methods but don’t want to go through the certification process will use this term too.
We would like to consider ourselves to be the epitome of quality and safety with our all-natural produce even without having official organic certification. We use only organic seeds and feed our fish, whose by-product acts as fertilizer, only organic fish food. We have no concerns about soil contamination since we don’t use any and our water undergoes a rigorous filtration and distillation process before being incorporated into the farm operation. And of course we don’t use pesticides! We start out with all the benefits of a certified organic crop but don’t have to be concerned about the factors that can invalidate that standard because we are a closed-environment operation. Every input is completely in our control. We like to believe that we are the best of all worlds.