“How do you grow your crops?” When customers at the farmers’ market ask this question they often want to know: (a) if the item on my table is something that I have grown, and (b) whether it is “organic.” Answering the first question is easy – I grow almost everything that I sell, and label those items that come from other farms – but the second question delves into more complex territory.
The produce from my postage-stamp sized farm is not certified organic, mainly because of cost and record keeping requirements. To comply with the USDA standards, a farm draws up a production plan including crop rotation, cover crops where applicable, and practices that enhance soil structure and biodiversity. In addition, they agree to use only approved substances. (Scrupulously detailed lists of allowed and prohibited substances can be found here, at the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations.) Farms are inspected yearly, and are required to show that no prohibited substances were used for 3 years prior to certification.
Technically, I could say that my veggies are organic, because I do follow the organic standards and I make less than $5,000 a year from my farm (unfortunately.) In fact, I am in the process of having my farm re-certified through a grassroots peer-to-peer network, Certified Naturally Grown, which sends farmers, consumers and extension agents into the fields to document that growers are adhering to organic production methods.
Yet I harbor misgivings about the sharp delineation made between “organic” and “conventional” growing practices on today’s farms. By completely separating certain substances and ways of growing, we give the impression that one way is “good” and the other is “bad.” As in most of life, things aren’t that simple. I’ll try to dig into the more subtle questions in future posts.