Describing non-certified organic practices. Help?

Mark(Oregon, Zone 8)November 10, 2011

Sorry if this subject has been discussed before. I tried the search but came up with few answers.

Our farm sells at various markets and by far the most common question is "are you organic?"

I've been certified organic in the past and am aware of the details of the National organic standards, but no longer choose to certify, partially due to watered down standards but mostly due to the $600 annual cost.

We are still growing the same way as always, but find ourselves confused as to how to describe our produce.

For a while now i've been telling customers that we "are not certified but grow all our produce using organic practices."

This seems to work fine as a quick and easy, as most customers get bored fast when I start to describe the details of our growing (I could talk about it all day).

I do wonder if I am breaking some new organic rule by describing our farm as the above.

Any opinions from the organic growers out there (certified or otherwise)?

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I used to be certified organic as well and tell people either we used to be certified organic and still farm that way or I tell them we use all certified organic inputs and OMRI approved fertilizers and that gets the point across even better

and no, I do not believe you are breaking any rules doing what you are doing. I say this as a person who was red flagged by the USDA NOP folks-they saw an old picture of me at a farmers market with the words certified organic on a sign that was on an old website that had been archived. They also had a problem with me using the term organic on my running website. I told them the photo was taken when my farm was certified organic and that I would take down all references to Organic except where I say on my site I was certified by OEFFA until 2002 as that is the truth and they cannot take that away from me. They were okay with all of that.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2011 at 5:08AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I would not even mention the words organic methods or anything with the word organic.
If people want to know your growing methods and you are not certified organic just explain that you use no chemical pesticides and /or herbicides/fertilizer . If you do use any chemicals explain this to the customer.
Example: I use compost and 16-16-16 chemical fertilizer.
as far as pesticide I only use a homemade spray of garlic and cayenne. Herbicide I use roundup in the early spring and nothing during the growing season.
If I am too chemical for them ,Oh well. there are other places to buy. I have found that only about 2-5 % of people around my area are worried about buying organic only. Mark

    Bookmark   November 11, 2011 at 7:22AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
magz88(5a - Central Ontario)

I don't think you are breaking any rules unles you say 'we are certified organic' when you are not. I agree with you that the standards are watered down for organic certification. I almost want to tell people that we are better than organic! But that would be too pretentious. :)

This is the blurb that we sometimes put up for people to read at our stand and what we tell customers. Our market manager is considering making having an information blurb mandatory for all vendors at the market. It's also on our market's website. (I put up the photo on the website too for fun).

...Sanford Market Garden is located less than 2 km from Barrie's City Hall. Our produce grown from open-pollinated non-hybrid seed is cultivated using non-mechanized organic production methods with soil amendments and fertilizers that are sourced locally. Stop by for a colourful bouquet or veggies that you might not find in supermarkets...

The only thing we buy commercially is bone meal so almost everything we put in our garden is from 12 km from town or less.

When people ask us if we grow organically we say 'Yes' and they are happy with that.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2011 at 9:11AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Mark(Oregon, Zone 8)

Thanks for the responses. I guess we're all in a similar situation trying to describe our produce without boring the customer.
It's too bad the word "organic" has become such a catch phrase. For many customers you either "are" or "are not" organic. The don't seem to really want to hear how food is grown, just if it's safe for them. (once, when asked if I spray anything I said yes, kelp and compost tea,,,can you believe it, they walked!)
If half of the organic customers out there knew what factory farm organic is like (black plastic for miles, haygroves, Pyrethrin and rotenone, underpaid migrants...) they would maybe start asking some questions.
Sorry, I digress....

We'll, I asked this question because I've thought of making a sign that says something about 'using organic practices' and I hope I don't bring on the wrath of the USDA (Boulder, sorry to hear about it.)
Magz88, you're in Canada I think? It sounds like you have the same issues as in the US. About the last line you wrote, I have heard a few non-certified farmers respond "yes" to the organic question and then be reprimanded for 'lying'. Apparently to say 'we grow organically' means you have to be certified. I'm trying to figure out if there is a safe and legal way to say the same thing,,,

    Bookmark   November 11, 2011 at 1:14PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
magz88(5a - Central Ontario)

Yeah, I'm in Canada. Canada and the US entered into an agreement in 2009 to have the same regulations to facilitate trade.

I think 'grown naturally' is a good term as well.

(once, when asked if I spray anything I said yes, kelp and compost tea,,,can you believe it, they walked!)

We have a 55 gallon barrel of homing pigeon manure that we are composting for use next year on the veg garden. I will not be volunteering that info to people since I think they might find it too foreign a type of fertilizer.

I also will not be volunteering that we use our pee to fertilize the flowers! :)

    Bookmark   November 11, 2011 at 2:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
little_minnie(zone 4a)

The only thing you are allowed to print is Chemical Free. Put that sign out where they can see it. If you just say no pesticides or whatever, you are lumped in with the other farmers who use Roundup and other chemicals but haven't used pesticides on a particular crop. (big pet peeve of mine!). So sign that you are chemical free and then tell people verbally that you follow organic rules but have chosen to not become certified. Describe more as needed.
Mostly what i pick up from customers is this dangerous middle-informed situation. They know enough about GMOs and chemicals to be afraid of them, but not enough to understand what they really should be looking for. Some people start to think hybrids and GMOs are the same or that all corn is GMO, etc. I have had some interesting conversations with people who have a little knowledge. What is that saying about a little knowledge being dangerous?

    Bookmark   November 12, 2011 at 3:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I went through the same rigamarole when the certification process started, but the word "organics" was in the name of my business, so I had to change everything but my practices. You should come up with a poster or brochure explaining the downside of the certification process for small growers (which is, in part, why BIG AG got in the fight in the first place. Eliot Coleman has written eloquently about the regressive effects of certification on the organic small farm movement.) I market my produce now under the term Responsibly Grown, even though all of my practices would qualify under the certification program, simply because it is not of any interest to be jumping through the governments' imaginary and often pointless hoops. I have the advantage that I do not sell at farmers markets, strictly to restaurants, and my clients already know how I grow and the quality of my product, so I'm not in the dilemma of having to repeat the same defense of my practices. Part of the pleasure of marketing your produce is talking about it, but you should not have to defend it. Grow a healthy, tasty product and let it speak for itself.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2011 at 6:14PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

You cannot use the term Organic in anyway shape or form other than to say you USED to be certified organic (if that is the truth-they cannot take that away from you) and to say you use OMRI/Organic inputs

Cowpie you do not use Organic practices at all so you have to stay away from that term altogether-RoundUp and especially chemical fertilizers are a huge No, no with us Organic folks as the chemical ferts and RoundUp tend to do real harm to the life in the soil and thus do not grow soil but destroy it and that cannot happen in an Organic farming system, period. But you are honest about your practices, I have set up next to many a farmer who used a lot of chemicals but decided they were organic because they used compost as well.

This is why we have to have Organic standards to keep people honest and to protect the buying public that knows little to nothing about Organic farming

    Bookmark   November 15, 2011 at 4:15AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
little_minnie(zone 4a)

Indeed. Next to me are two farmers that are very responsible. The more I get to know them the more I think so. However, they use chemical fertilizers and other small things. They will say 'no sprays were used on these radishes' or other crop, but that is actually misleading. Then again, the customers who really want true organic are few and far between at my market.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2011 at 4:02PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The problem is that many consumers are ignorant of what defines organic, what defines excessive use of chemicals, and of course the huge grey area in between. I don't blame farmers for using ambiguous wording to their advantage, because they always get shafted by consumers' ignorance otherwise.
Many organic sprays can be pretty toxic to the environment and non-target organisms. I feel much better about using a little chemical fertilizer here and there than using pyrethrins, but the former is not organic and the latter is. I'm very happy to discuss this with consumers of course, but most are not interested and get frightened of "technical talk".

    Bookmark   November 15, 2011 at 4:30PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Here in CT we have a chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association - I know Maine has MOGFA, etc. I'm sure almost all states have such an organization. If you choose not go through all the hoops (and expense) to be certified organic (and even if you do!), you can still take the "Farmer's Pledge" and post it at your stand.

I didn't do that this year b/c the pledge says you will allow visits from consumers who want to check out your practices, though NOFA doesn't so inpsections. Our insurance doesn't allow people to come onto the property (agent was very adamant about not doing PYO or having a farm store), so I couldn't in good conscience sign the pledge and then deny someone a visit due to insurance reasons. Hopefully in a year or 2 (if we're still in business after this awful year!), we'll find another agency.

Here is a link that might be useful: Farmer's Pledge

    Bookmark   November 16, 2011 at 6:42PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
little_minnie(zone 4a)

Would you let your insurance agent come onto the property? I can't imagine not letting a person do an inspection. What if you wanted to sell?

    Bookmark   November 17, 2011 at 9:52PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I just came across this in the FEDCO seed catalog:

Alternatives to Organic Certification
Certified Naturally Grown (CNG), 540 President St. 3rd floor,
Brooklyn, NY 11215, is an alternative
certification program for direct market farmers who use natural methods
and sell locally. Apply online or contact Alice Varon, (877) 211-0308 or by
email at
Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) An international movement
to decentralize and simplify certification so that it is available to small
farms and poor farmers selling directly to consumers. Most PGS farms
have an educational visit from a mixed group of fellow farmers &
consumers rather than an inspection. The guarantee is connected with
developing local markets and empowering farmers. Contact Elizabeth
The Farmer�s Pledge, from NOFANY,
to practice socially just, humane and ecologically sound farming.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2011 at 3:48AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Oh, yes, I would let insurance agent onto property (and I just had to let appraiser into the house since town is doing re-evaluation). But insurance agent didn't want *customers* coming onto the property, which is what the Farmer's Pledge says they can do (since NOFA doesn't do inspections, the farmer agrees to let any interested customer come and check the operation out).

    Bookmark   December 6, 2011 at 9:47PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

How about the Certified Natural Grown? You let another farmer inspect you.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 7:34PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
little_minnie(zone 4a)

I don't get certitifed Naturally Grown. In the Fedco catalog where they list some of their potato suppliers one says "certified naturally grown; they grow organically except for a spray of herbicide at the end of the season to stop blight (or some disease)". That doesn't sound organic to me.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 8:24PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Mark(Oregon, Zone 8)

Maybe not 100% "Organic", but honest.
Growers sometimes have to make some concessions in order not to lose a crop, and I try not to judge what i'm not experiencing firsthand.
If they were "Organic"(TM) they would lose their certification if they did spray non-OMRI fungicide, but if they can be honest and still keep their seed contracts more power to them.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 12:55AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I haven't checked into to it for a few years, at that time, it was a alternative to organic. You were to follow organic standards and practices, but no government certification was needed, only another farmer that was signed up with them. There wasn't anyone within 100 miles of me at the time, so it didn't seem likely that I could get someone to 'inspect' me.

I believe there are organic herbicides available. Perhaps that want they used.

Yes, honesty is the best policy. Even some organics, people are allergic to and should be notified of usage.


    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 9:45AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Bed Shaper
Quick question, does anyone use a bed shaper? I am...
jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)
Movable High Tunnels? JRSLICK?
You have mentioned "movable building spots"...
Selling Tomato Plants?
We have a small produce farm, and we sell everything...
Starting an urban farm
Greetings all. I have read a great deal on these forums...
The new season has started
First planting of carrots are planted. Sorry the picture...
jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™