Are You Organic – Part 2 (I have egg on my face and apparently it’s organic).

This post was originally made on Monday but a reader posed a question that I thought needed to be verified.  I took down the post and this is the new one.

I stated in my original post that under organic certification rules, I would not be allowed to amend my garden soil for calcium using eggshells from my own hens.  A reader asked how I arrived at that conclusion because under NOP rule 105 eggshells are allowed.  It turns out the reader is correct and I was totally wrong!

While I usually hate being wrong this is not one of those instances.  Also, whether I hate being wrong or not I think it is imperative to admit when I am.  After all, this blog and this series of posts in particular, is about truth as it relates to the food system.  In this case, I’m glad to be wrong.

First I checked the OMRI list again just to be sure.  Under NOP rule 105 OMRI lists ‘eggshell meal’ as an acceptable additive.  My confusion stems from the fact that ‘eggshell meal’ is not what I use.  Eggshell meal is like blood meal or bone meal, which is something that is treated in an oven or furnace, inspected and sold commercially.  Just to be sure I checked with MOFGA’s organic crop certification specialist.  She says MOFGA interprets that rule to mean eggshells in general and also that they do not have to be shells from certified organic eggs.  In other words, I could get eggshells from a CAFO and use those and it would be fine.

So, to sum up, I was totally and completely wrong about that.  However, some parts of my original post are still valid and I’ve left them standing below.  Sorry for the confusion and my error.  Again, I was wrong, reader was correct.  (Thank you reader!)  Moving on.

I eat a lot of eggs.  I never throw away a shell.

I eat a lot of eggs. I never throw away a shell.

I’m going to put my disclaimer at the beginning of this post as opposed to the end like my ‘Are You Organic Part 1‘ post because a lot of people didn’t seem to make it to the end.  I am not, in any way, trying to say through this series of critiques of ‘Organic Certification’ that you should refrain from supporting certified organic farmers.  Suggesting that I am disparaging organic farmers by alerting people to the reality of organic certification is a non sequitur.  That’s the same illogical (lack of) thought process that leads people to suggest those who oppose war or try to expose war crimes don’t support our troops or are anti-veteran.  I support certified organic farmers with my purchasing power.  But not because they’re certified organic.  Rather, I support farmers who use practices with which I agree.  Some of them happen to have chosen to certify their farms and some of those practices happen to be certifiable – I just don’t care.

As I wrote in my previous post, Parker Family Farm is not certified organic and never has been.  I have many reasons for refraining from organic certification such as those highlighted in my last post which revolved around the idea that ‘certified organic’ does not mean what the vast majority of people believe it means.  In my new version of this post I want to highlight the fact that organic certification doesn’t necessarily give people enough information.

Eggshells from our kitchen are saved all year in bags and  buckets, whatever's on hand.

Eggshells from our kitchen are saved all year in bags and buckets, whatever’s on hand.

I love everything about tomatoes from the planting of the seed to the first flavor explosion of a Sun Gold to the quick meal in February from sauce I made in September.  But domesticated tomatoes have a big problem.  They split (or ‘crack’ depending upon your lexicon).  The reason for this annoying tendency is moisture fluctuation and nutrient deficiency, specifically, calcium.

August's End 004

Most farmers, and indeed most gardeners, who research this problem are quick to purchase ground limestone.  This is an organic material. It is ground up rock; of course it’s an organic material.  From my point of view however, not so much.  Using that logic, you could easily arrive at the idea that high fructose corn syrup is organic.  It comes from a plant right?

Limestone is a mined material.  It’s ripped from the Earth, pulverized by massive equipment and then shipped all over the world, all of which uses massive amounts of petroleum.  Do me a favor; type ‘limestone mine’ into a google search bar and when the results are displayed click on the ‘images’ link.  Is that what you picture when you think of a nice, pastoral, organic farm?

But I combat splitting tomatoes with eggshells.  Eggshells are nearly one hundred percent calcium.  A few dozen eggshells in the bottom of the hole at planting time, will help your tomato plants deal with fluctuations in moisture throughout the growing season.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I eat a lot of eggs.  Every single shell, all year-long, is saved for one particular day each spring: tomato planting day.

There is no distinction made within organic certification between farmers who use the limestone mined from the open pits you saw in those images from your google search and those of us who try to avoid such high impact materials.  Which of these two practices would have been most acceptable to those crazy hippies from the birth of the organic movement in the sixties?  Or to the millions of farmers who existed before the industrial revolution, global transportation and oil (or those who still exist outside that infrastructure)?  Most importantly, which method would you prefer to keep the tomatoes you grow/buy from splitting?

I also found out in my query with MOFGA that they allow coffee grounds as a soil amendment but in this case they make distinctions based on the type of filters used.  This is also a good thing because it has the potential to keep biologically degradable material out of landfills.

I also wouldn't be able to compost my spent coffee and filters despite the fact that I buy organic/fair trade coffee and use bleach free filters.

Eggshells and coffee grounds make excellent soil and compost amendments (and are, it turns out, allowed in certified organic operations.

If you are relying on a certification developed and controlled by the federal government for your food, you’re going to miss a lot of distinctions that get thrown out with the bathwater.  Frankly, I’d rather just find farmers who will answer my questions, let me visit their farms and snoop around and thus, farmers whom I trust.  That way I can see for myself the distinctions that are important to me (i.e. use of materials from open pit mines around the world vs. on farm inputs like eggshells).  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.