What Organic Really Means: Clearing The Confusion 2021

We get questions all the time about the “organicness” of what we grow and something we realized was that it is much more confusing than you might think.  So we’ve decided to blog about it! 

First let’s look at what the USDA defines as organic for crops

  • Land must have had no prohibited substances applied to it for at least 3 years before the harvest of an organic crop.
  • Soil fertility and crop nutrients will be managed through tillage and cultivation practices, crop rotations, and cover crops, supplemented with animal and crop waste materials and allowed synthetic materials.
  • Crop pests, weeds, and diseases will be controlled primarily through management practices including physical, mechanical, and biological controls. When these practices
  • are not sufficient, a biological, botanical, or synthetic substance approved for use on the National List may be used.
  • Operations must use organic seeds and other planting stock when available.
  • The use of genetic engineering, ionizing radiation and sewage sludge is prohibited.

All that essentially boils down to is that organic foods are not supposed to have anything synthetic in them, but as you (astute reader) may have noticed expressions such as allowed synthetic chemicals and when available may provide wiggle room for certain farms that wish to become certified. All this has aroused debate in the media over the certification process that big business executives are responsible for maintaining, in turn creating barriers to entry for young farming entrepreneurs.

The catch with the organic certification process is that it is often too expensive for small farmers to try and become certified. This may provide a disincentive for small farmers to take up organic practices because they cannot put the “USDA Organic” label on their foods.  In the farming community, this is a difficult issue because farmers who are growing things organically are often unable to promote that because they can’t afford the process of becoming official. Louisiana’s last certifier gave up that status just this year. Now the process may involve flying someone in from Oregon to check out your operation.

Another twist is that although hydroponic growing can be more sustainable than traditional agriculture, the process by which organic fertilizers interact with plants often requires soil. In order to develop a truly organic fertilizer would have to be highly refined, water-soluble, and non-clogging. At AMPS we chose to use hydroponics for the same reason that many folks, like LUFA Farms in Canada, “we chose hydroponic methods versus classic soil agriculture because it allows us to grow high quality, highly nutritious plants with minimum water and nutrients and to do so in a safe and conscionable way.” We use only organic certified pest controls (see Organic Materials Review Institute) and an all-natural, mineral-based solution to fertilize our produce.

If you are a wise consumer and you want to know what your plants ate before you eat it, just ask the folks in the farmers market or do a little research on the brands you buy.  There are tons of articles out there (many listed below) with more info on what this means for you.

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