While updating our website this winter, I realized that I never announced a couple certifications we applied for and earned this past season. We are super proud to join thousands of farms across the nation as a certified Real Organic Project farm! This project came to be shortly after certified organic farmers noticed the label they worked so hard to secure in the first place was being threatened. Farmers watched the USDA errode and ignore standards as large corporations and operations got in on a piece of the organic pie. On poultry farms, tiny doors onto tiny concrete porches count as access to the outdoors so eggs from chickens who never set foot on soil are sold as certified organic. Hydroponics has also infiltrated the organic arena, eventhough in 1995, organic was originally defined by the National Organic Standards Board as “an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain, and enhance ecological harmony.” Berries, on these hydroponic operations, whose roots never touch soil, are sold as certified organic. And perhaps more importantly, their actual growth is dependent on off-farm inputs, which, as per the definition, organic farms are supposed to use minimally. So as the organic industry has grown we are see operations failing to adhere to the spirit of the law and some organic farmers saw a need to reclaim the word.
We were a little reluctant to join the Real Organic movement at first because we were hopeful that the USDA, though the National Organic Standards Board, would adopt new rules and add clarifying language to help keep the organic seal strong. We like that we are third party verified and held accountable through our yearly application process and inspection and do stand by the organic seal. Unfortunately, a crucial piece to strengthen organic livestock practices, the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule, which was published on January 19, 2017 never got implemented. It was delayed 3 times and then withdrawn in 2018. The rule would have increased federal regulation of livestock and poultry for certified organic producers and handlers- implementing things that the majority of organic farmers were already doing; access to pasture, adequate animal space, and other humane practices. In fact during the public comment period, 63,000 submissions wanted implementation of the OLPP final rule, while only 50 supported its withdrawal. The issue of hydroponics is also contentious. In 2010, the National Standards Board, a 15 person body that meets and sends recommendations to the USDA, recommended 14 to 1 to prohibit hydroponics from the organic label (The USDA did not, however, take up this recommendation). During a meeting in 2017 the topic came up again and this time the board voted 8-7 to allow hydroponics. In effect nothing changed, since the USDA has permitted hydroponics. But those behind the Real Organic Project see this as a step in the wrong direction, moving organic away from soil based systems. Nothing is wrong with hydroponics, per se, but it is entirely different form of farming. It is very important to note that Real Organic Farms must also be certified organic through the USDA! And that is one of the reasons we decided to ultimately join. Real Organic farms recognize the important work that was done to secure an organic seal in the first place and continue to push the USDA towards high standards with the label (in fact the OLPP has new life and a version of it has been proposed by USDA this past summer!) In the meantime, we have this other seal that says to consumers “we are farming the way organic was intended”!
Another certificate we earned this year also requires that we be USDA organic. To be a FairShare CSA Coalition Endorsed, farms are certified organic (or in transition), have a CSA program- the contents of which the vast majority are produced on farm, and show a high level of customer service. I did write about FairShare’s expansion into Ohio is this blog earlier this summer as well more info about the org in this blog.
Both our Real Organic Project and FairShare CSA Coalition designation provide transparency to you, our customers! We are also excited to say that FairShare has some funding to help support consumers monetarily as well! Check out their Partner Shares program here. We’ll be including info about it on our CSA info page very soon. We are looking forward to working more with both FairShare and The Real Organic Project in the coming years!