We get this question a lot and it’s a tough one to answer.
The short version is no, we are not an organic farm because the U.S. Department of Agriculture owns the rights to the word “organic.” They define the term, how it applies to producers and who has paid for the right to use that word. Because we do not have USDA Organic Certification, we are not an organic farm and our products cannot be called organic.
Will we ever seek USDA organic certification?
The short answer is no. We don’t see many benefits right now, and honestly, aren’t too thrilled about participating in any bureaucratic process beyond taxes. OK that’s my sarcastic and cynical response.
The truth is that the process for becoming certified organic involves lots of paperwork, lots of meetings, and lots of cash. For example, we would need to prove that no one has applied pesticides, herbicides or any other synthetic fertilizers to our fields for at least 3 years to certify that our grassfed cows are eating certified organic pasture. We would then only be able to purchase certified organic hay to feed them in the winter. We could only purchase certified organic feed for our poultry, and same for our pork.
The organic certification also has no regulations around the feed program of the livestock. Many certified organic producers are selling organic beef, which is raised on a slightly classier feedlot with organic grain instead of conventional grain, and no routine antibiotics and growth hormones. Not much difference in production and it’s a step in the right direction, but we want to raise animals in an environment that uses nature as its template. Not a feedlot.
Our production style wouldn’t really change much since we already exceed the guidelines for access to the outdoors so that animals are able to “exhibit their natural instincts,” which is required for certification. Of course, we never use growth hormones, antibiotics or synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, etc. so this wouldn’t change either.
Basically, to obtain organic certification, we would lose the freedom to preference sourcing locally over organically. Instead of buying the hayfield a quarter mile from our farm and supporting our farmer friend in our local community, we could only buy certified organic hay which is usually shipped in from the Plain States.
We purchase all our grain from a grower just 12 miles from our farm. He grows open-pollinated, non-genetically modified corn and roasted soybeans that are specially mixed as supplemental feed for our production system. He’s also not certified organic and likely never will be. But, we love what he’s doing, love working with him and the mutually-beneficial partnership we’ve created with him. This wouldn’t be an option with certified organic.
Personally, we like to support other local farmers who are doing creative and ecological farming like we are, rather than supporting a farmer a few states away and adding the carbon footprint of transport in the name of the organic label. While our pastures could be easily certified organic, we like to think that our customers trust us enough to buy our product whether we have the label or not. Instead of buying all organic, it would be revolutionary for everyone to buy food with no labels at all! Just raw forms of food that are prepared at home, with love, for family and friends. 😀
So, what are our values? What are you buying from us if we’re not organic? As Joel Salatin likes to say, his farm is “beyond organic.” I don’t think we’re quite to the level of Polyface Farm, but I would say that we’re hitting most, if not all, of the benchmarks of being organic BUT we buy local over organic.
We value our local community, other local small producers, and supporting them versus a label. Our cows graze grass and eat hay in the winter. Our poultry is all free-range (very free-range, I found a chicken in my kitchen this week!) and fed with a 100% non-GMO, locally-grown, locally-milled feed. No it’s not organic. Our pigs have their fill of bulk milk from our dairy cows (who turned our grass into milk!) and bulk produce that consumers find too “imperfect” to eat.
In the philosophical sense, I believe we’re organic. According to the USDA, organic production integrates “cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.” That’s us. Or, at least it’s what we’re striving for. Conservation. Biodiversity. Stewardship of natural resources. Support of our local community (as imperfect as we all are!).
Call us what you want. Grassfed. Pastured. Sustainable. Small. Ecological. Whatever.
Just don’t call us ORGANIC.