In the last two columns I’ve laid out the reasons why Yellow Stonehouse Farm became a USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Certified Organic Farm and CSA. This week I’m writing about what it takes to become certified! You see, being USDA Certified Organic is a lot more than just saying your farm is organic.
To become USDA certified Organic, farms have to prove they have been following organic practices for 3 years. For that entire time, we had to maintain records on everything purchased and used at the farm as evidence it was either approved by the USDA or certified organic itself (i.e. seeds, compost, fertilizers, etc.), so that our crops in turn could become a certified organic product. In order for our vegetables to be organic, our entire supply chain has to be organic. Then – to get the certification – we have to complete a series of forms and affidavits attesting that our operation conforms to USDA organic regulations and prove everything we used was organic, and finally, submit to an examination by a “Certifier”, in our case Baystate Organic Certifiers.
If you think this sounds like a paperwork nightmare, you’re right! Becoming USDA Certified Organic is a painstaking process, requiring detailed paperwork and bookkeeping on top of working to find organic suppliers, and not using chemical short cuts to increase productivity (herbicides) and eliminate pests and disease (pesticides and fungicides).
Perhaps the most exasperating component of the process is the fee to become certified! In addition to the many hours of labor required for documentation and filing (which we figure is worth around $2000.00), we also had to pay an initial certification fee of over $1000.00 and then an annual re-certification fee every year thereafter. Isn’t it ironic that the farmers using healthy and sustainable practices have to pay a fee – while those who are using pesticides, insecticides and farm without regard for sustainability, don’t have to pay anything.
Despite the cost and time, being USDA Certified Organic is something we are proud of. Our certification provides our customers confidence that the vegetables we grow meet a set of organic criteria confirmed by an outside agency. We want a farm safe for us, our workers, members and the bees, butterflies, birds and animals we share the land with. We think the USDA Organic certification process provides the assurance that our vegetables are safe and healthy – not to mention delicious.