Are You Organic?

Being a micro-scale farmer and offering mixed vegetables at market and through our CSA, I am frequently asked if I’m organic.

As a writer and lover of words and their rules, the question irritates me for its display of poor language control .  Are you asking if I’m some sort of farming droid?  Ok, ok, obviously I understand what market goers are asking when they offer up this query.  Unfortunately, they do not.

First Cherry Tomatoes 004

Whenever I’m asked this question I always retort with the following: That depends upon what you mean by organic.  I’m invariably met with a blank stare, or a combination of eyebrows drawing down and jaw dropping, both signaling confusion.

I’ve been farming commercially for ten years.  I’ve probably been asked if I’m organic three hundred times (a conservative estimate I think).  When I ask what people think organic means they respond, ‘no pesticides or chemicals’.  Always.  Not one person has ever diverged from this response.  10 out of 10 people.  You get the point?  Everyone says this.  Moving on.

If you think that’s what organic means then yes, the vegetables I grow absolutely are organic.  However, if you believe this is what it means to be Certified Organic, you are sadly mistaken.  Don’t worry, you’ve got lots of company (at least three hundred people).

Picture 229

Here is the  OMRI website (Organic Materials Review Institute), where you can find lists of over 3000 substances permitted by the National Organic Program (NOP) for use by Certified Organic farmers.  The lists contain everything from pesticides to fungicides, herbicides to amendments.

“What?!”  I can hear the surprise and outrage now, as I’ve heard it for years when discussing this issue with customers.  “They can put pesticides on organic crops?!”  No.  They can put pesticides (and lots of other things) on CERTIFIED Organic crops.  What’s the difference?

Organic, as I (and millions of other farmers around the world) use the word, still means what it meant before the 1990’s when the USDA got involved with regulation of the word.  Yes, regulation of the word.  God bless the first amendment.

Did you know that I, as a farmer who has never even purchased a pesticide, certified organic or otherwise, let alone used any, am legally prohibited from using the word ‘organic’ to describe my vegetables?  In fact, anyone who does not Certify through the NOP is prohibited from using the words ‘Organic’, ‘100% Organic’, or ‘made with organic’.  You can see this for yourself if you want.  In fact, you should.  If you’re shocked to learn that certain pesticides and chemicals can be used in certified organic production, you have no one to blame but yourself.  The NOP is a federal program, regulated by federal law and this part of our laws (at least for now) isn’t classified for ‘national security’ reasons.  Did you know you could actually read laws for yourself?  God bless representative democracy.  If you’re not willing to take an interest in the laws regulating what you put into your body (and what words we’re allowed to use to describe said things) perhaps your priorities are a bit skewed.  The laws governing regulations set by the National Organic Standards Board are covered by Title 7, Section 205 of the Federal Code of Regulations.

This post is already stretching and I’m planning on going on for a while.  If you’re a regular reader, I know you’re shocked.  I haven’t posted in about a month (I’ve been using this winter to write my first novel) and I need to get back into a regular posting pattern.  I’ll use this post as my diving board and swim deeper into this subject over the next several.

Suffice it to say as I close this particular post that I, or more accurately, the vegetables I grow and offer for sale, are not Certified Organic.  They are, however…whoops!  Almost broke the law there.  Yikes!

I am not, in any way suggesting that you should not patronize certified organic farms and farmer’s market booths nor that you should refrain from purchasing certified organic when you’re at the grocery store.  On the contrary, for the few things I don’t produce myself, my family and I purchase certified organic when possible.  However, this is not because I live in a fantasy world where that certification means something it never has.  Indeed, when I make purchases from local, certified organic farmers, I do this in spite of that certification.  More on this and other topics in later posts.  Until then, let the mud slinging begin.  Hopefully said mud is organic…certified or otherwise.  Local Food.  Eat well – be well.


Ryan Parker

About Ryan Parker

Ryan Parker is a farmer, writer, artist and musician. He currently lives in Central Maine with his wife, two children, a golden retriever, some pigs and chickens. He raises pastured and forested animals and grows a diverse range of vegetables without synthetic chemicals, pesticides, herbicides or taxpayer subsidies.