Below is a guest post from the Good Earth Farmers, a co-op of farmers serving the Eastern Tennessee area. I’ve included some information about the farmers below. If you’d like to sign up for their free weekly newsletter, please e-mail-- email@example.com Even if you are outside of the East TN area, I encourage you to sign up. Their newsletter always has great information on eco-conscious living, organic farming, and in season recipes.
Just What Does It Mean to be an Organic Farmer or Gardener?
Much confusion still exists over the term "organic" when used to describe both organic farming practices and food grown and sold using those practices. Volumes could be (and have been) written about the meaning of this simple word when applied to the growing and selling of food.
According to the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA), organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients, sewage sludge, bioengineering or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled "organic," a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified,too. http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/Consumers/brochure.html
The National Organic Program (NOP) allows growers to identify their food as "organic" if they sell less than $5,000. worth of food per year and meet the standards prescribed in the NOP, but have not been officially certified. This is known as the $5,000.00 exemption. Only certified producers or processors can use the official USDA Certified Organic seal.
So just what does this government language mean to us, practically, as farmers, gardeners and consumers? It means that "organic" products cannot be sprayed with pesticides or herbicides and must be grown in soil on which no synthetic chemical fertilizers have been used. The soil can only be enhanced by "organic" substances such as grass, wood chips, straw and compost which have not been exposed to pesticides, herbicides, etc.
Some pesticides and fertilizers are allowed, if they are OMRI certified. However, even these allowable substances can be detrimental to beneficial insects, and microbes in the soil. http://www.omri.org/OMRI_about_list.html
In addition, produce must be handled carefully to avoid contamination. The NOP also requires that food be grown in soil which has been free from
non-organic fertilizers/pesticides for at least three years. The Good Earth Farmers believe whole-heartedly in these organic practices and follow them closely. However, because we've surpassed the $5,000. exemption so we can no longer use the term "organic" in describing our produce.
Becoming a USDA Certified Organic grower is not only expensive, but time- consuming for the small farmer, as it entails a great deal of record keeping.
There are now ways other than the USDA Certified Organic label to help consumers identify produce grown according to organic standards. One increasingly popular designation is that of "Certified Naturally Grown". Some natural foods markets, such as Three Rivers Market in Knoxville, are encouraging local growers to use this new label. Good Earth Farmers is in the process of researching this certification. We'll keep you posted...
(The use of "USDA Certified Organic" on processed foods is another complicated story which we'll address in a future newsletter.)—So be sure to sign up for their weekly newsletter!
Some information about Good Earth Farmers
Good Earth Farmers consists of two separately owned small farms in New Market,TN : Tall Cedar Farm and Bird Song Farm.
Stephen Clements and Theresa Schroeder farm at Tall Cedar and Garth and Lois Symington have Bird Song. The farms both use the same pesticide-free method of farming, without synthetic chemical fertilizers. Tall Cedar and Bird Song cooperate to have a greater variety of produce available to our customers. We've been working together now for over two years. We have no employees.
Last year Good Earth Farmers sold our food at several local farmers markets as well as starting a program called Garden Delivery. However, working all the farmers markets left us little time to plant,weed and harvest! So this season, starting in late spring, we have sold only through the Garden Delivery program and the Dandridge Farmers Market, which we helped start last year. Our produce is also sometimes available through Three Rivers Market on Broadway in Knoxville. The recently opened Veg-O-Rama restaurant, on Central Ave. in Old North Knoxville is dedicated to buying local, pesticide-free produce, and also features our food.