Yes, we are officially certified organic. It wasn’t as hard as I thought – maybe 40 hours of work on my part for the whole process, plus slight adjustments to our record keeping systems, but otherwise, we were already following the standards. Everyone at Bay State Organic Certifiers was easy to work with.
So, now that we’re certified I can tell you my real feelings about organic certification . . . they are mixed. It’s hard to think of where to start. I will say, that when I’m shopping at a grocery store I try to buy organic. Especially grains/flours/products made with grains because I’m wary of herbicide residues from desiccation practices. I like having the label – it makes me feel a little more confident that there really are no herbicide/pesticide residues on the product I’m purchasing and that those inputs didn’t affect the farm workers or the environment where that food was produced.
But that’s where it ends. I don’t feel confident any product that I buy certified organic in the store was produced in a way that builds soil, truly respects animal welfare and didn’t degrade the ecosystem where it was produced (heck, we are now certified organic and I’m not convinced that we aren’t somewhat degrading our ecosystem). And the organic label doesn’t even touch on human rights/labor justice. It’s a marketing tool. Most of the “organic” farms selling to grocery stores are still basically mono-cropping agribusinesses.
Kevin thinks we can just sell our food for the prices we need to sell it for without being certified, so why bother?
I worry about the elitism that surrounds the organic label. I believe with my whole being that every person regardless of socio-economic status deserves access to food free of chemical inputs that meets their nutritional and cultural needs, within reason. I’m not saying people should get whatever they want, whenever they want it – I’m actually strongly opposed to that, but I don’t think price should be a barrier if someone wants to purchase food without wondering if they are slowly contaminating themselves, or their environment.
Everyone says that I’ll get so many more customers with certification. But I worry about the customers who won’t shop with me because they have a bad attitude about organic, or who will just assume our produce is too expensive. Sure, I can’t match Market Basket prices – but I definitely come close to/match most of the other grocery stores and definitely at least match other local farms, regardless of their certification status. When deciding what to charge, of course I pay attention to what others are charging, but I also try to actually track expenses, to make sure I’m charging reasonable prices to cover costs, still pay employees fairly, make sure that when we’ve run a truck into the ground we’re able to put up a down payment for another, but I really want to charge the least amount of money possible – especially for our CSA members. (PS: I love Market Basket and I love that there is fresh produce available at affordable prices there.)
Also, in terms of getting customers – that’s never been our problem. Land access used to be our biggest problem, now we’re working on building systems for ease of production. Maybe we’ll get so great at growing food we’ll be desperate for customers in a few years, but it’s my hope that we will grow our customer base as we grow. We have GREAT, dedicated customers who I adore and appreciate, especially since they trusted me even before I got the certification. I don’t want to charge them any more than what is reasonable.
The cost of certification isn’t that bad. I’m much more cranky about credit card processing fees than my certification costs. To offset the cost of certification I’d need to charge an additional .0055 cents for every dollar I charge. So a $3 bunch of carrots would actually cost $3.0165. I’m pretty sure if I can eat a 2.9% + 30cent/transaction credit card fee I can eat a .55% organic fee. And, there is a cost-share grant program to offset the certification fee, so it’s really just .36%.
I don’t like to encourage blindly believing that a regulatory authority is worth trusting. The National Organic Program is a part of the USDA, they write the rules and accredit the certifiers. What do you really know about the program? Have you read the standards? Do you know who is on the NOP Board? I’m not advocating that you spend time researching this, I’m just want you to think about who you are trusting to make you feel confident that I’m producing food in a way you approve of.
Also, I know a lot of growers who don’t fully embrace the organic standards who grow excellent food. I don’t think I’m better than they are, or that our produce is better.
It’s a marketing tool. I’m probably drastically reducing it’s impact by trying to be honest about my mixed feelings, but that’s ok, I think my dedicated customers know me well enough now to roll their eyes and keep munching on their bok choy, and those of you who wanted me to prove my methods of production though third party certification – well, here you go! I hope you’ll like us for more than our label.
Yes, our address is incorrect – it’s being adjusted now and I will update the form when I have it.
Oh, and the type-A, needs to make everyone happy and wants approval form authority part of me definitely got a little rush when I received my certification confirmation email. I try to pretend I’m not that girl anymore, but, I’d be remise if I didn’t include that honest truth.