According to USAToday’s Natalie Ermann Russell, farmers involved in the Farm-to-Table or locavore movement — eating food that is locally produced — are progressively less inclined to become certified as “organic” growers because of over regulation by the US GOVT, even if their method of farming would meet or exceed federal standards.
Russell attributes the phenomenon in part to the Farm-to-Table movement which has rapidly gained momentum and popularity in recent years, as more American families strive to purchase food free of chemicals and genetic engineering grown by small growers and Farmers’ Markets.
Russell claims many locavores feel they don’t need a third-party certification for something they’ve seen with their own eyes. Since 2002, the USDA’s National Organic Program has regulated the organic standards for any farm, wild crop harvesting, or operation that wants to sell organic produce.
“My customers put faith in me to provide them exactly what I say I’m growing,” says Polyface Farms’ Joel Salatin, a poultry, beef and pork farmer in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley who was featured in the film Food Inc.
Salatin authored the book “Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People and a Better World, and says proudly, “Polyface Farms is open to any visitor, unannounced, 24/7/365 … unescorted. That’s our credibility.”
Salatin was hailed by the New York Times as “Virginia’s most multifaceted agrarian since Thomas Jefferson [and] the high priest of the pasture” and profiled in the Academy Award nominated documentary Food, Inc. and the bestselling book The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
Hana Newcomb, who owns a farm in Northern Virginia says, “We were certified organic for 13 years before the federal government got involved. We are still doing everything the same way, but just aren’t getting certified.”
Maintaining credibility in the community is a key factor in how local farmers are able stay in business. Many do all the farmwork themselves, even as they do the accounting, sell at farmers markets, and promote their business.
Russell contends maintaining paperwork required to be USDA certified organic is more than many can handle; some farmers claim they would require another full-time staffer to be USDA certified.
According to Salatin, many farmers “are no longer playing the organic licensing game due to its onerous bureaucratic qualities. And it does not address many of the important variables — like techniques for soil fertility, weeding and employee treatment — so charlatans receive credentials along with true-blue producers.”
Katie Kulla of Oakhill Organics, a 17-acre family farm near Portland, Oregon, that’s USDA Certified says, “I don’t think the restaurants we sell our vegetables to would care at all if we were not certified. They care about the quality.”
Brian Leitner, executive chef and co-owner of Nettie’s Crab Shack in San Francisco, agrees. “Knowing who is growing your product is key.”
“The organic certification process serves the needs of large-scale farmers who ship their products and can’t be in touch with the people who are buying them,” says Newcomb. “When you live where your market is and sell to your neighbors, what more could you ask for?”