Our Choice to be Organic Certified
Organic isn’t simply a method or a label, it’s a holistic approach to living and working with nature, not bending it to our will. Organic agriculture sustains the health of soil, ecosystems, and people by relying on ecological processes, biodiversity, and cycles adapted to local conditions instead of inputs with adverse effects. It’s a commitment to long-term sustainability and conscious decision-making. At Bloomsbury, choosing to be certified organic was the first decision we made and it remains our guidestone today.
In recent years, there’s been a deepening awareness around the foods we eat and how they get to the table. It’s conversation that’s long overdue. While our food vocabularies and knowledge expands, a proliferation of descriptors (e.g., organically grown, no spray, natural) can make it difficult sometimes to differentiate between growing practices. As farmers we’re also educators, and at Bloomsbury, we want you to not only enjoy healthy food, but also understand the “whys” and “hows” of the meaningful decisions we make to grow it and you make when you eat it.
To start, it helps to look back. The increased environmental awareness and the back-to-the-land movement of the mid-1960s to mid-1970s gave rise to a segment of farmers who worked towards making sustainable methods more viable. They shined a light on the positive environmental and health implications of organic methods over conventional, chemical-heavy ag. As the movement grew, so did the need for establishing a uniform definition of “organic” and regulation. The 1990 Organic Food Production Act (OFPA) resulted from farming and consumer groups petitioning the government for the development and enforcement of national standards of production and certification. The organic industry is the only agricultural segment that asks to be regulated. The OFPA, along with a 2000 ruling, established that all products labeled organic must adhere to extensive standards for ingredients and production methods outlined by the USDA.
Organic certification not only holds all farmers accountable for organic production standards, but it also reinforces the integrity of organic. It’s not something that can be done in parts or halves. For organic to continue to move forward as a whole, it requires a level playing field and verifiable accountability from all the players in the game. Certification provides a clear assurance to the consumer.
The organic certification process, though good, is imperfect -- it’s costly and time-intensive. Farms must pay high fees to the government and third-party certifying agencies, as well as allocate manpower to maintaining the extensive recordkeeping that’s required. That said it’s currently the best system we have. Certification upholds the integrity of organic, and it is the only legal way to hold farmers accountable to organic production standards and unambiguously communicate and guarantee customers the farming practices behind the products. Most importantly, it’s how organic farms get counted -- the organic industry is measured by the number of farms that are certified. That has real implications in terms of policy decisions and federal allocations for research, support, and funding. Although only a small piece of the whole, it’s material for organic farmers and consumers.
“The cost of organic food is higher than that of conventional food because the organic price tag more closely reflects the true cost of growing the food: substituting labor and intensive management for chemicals.”
-- Organic Farming Research Foundation
Organic food costs more -- that’s true for the grower and the customer. But, that cost is also an investment. Our practices are more labor-intensive, but it means being able to provide work and fair wages to more members of our community. Instead of throwing chemicals at the symptoms of problems (pests, weeds, and everything in between), we must address deficiencies and anticipate issues before they arise. Certified organic requires exhaustive testing, monitoring, and daily recordkeeping -- for every step of the process, and while this is a significant investment of time and resources, it means operating with efficiency and allows proactive -- and not reactive -- decision-making. Building healthy soil is a key component. By requirement and by belief, organic farms work to sustain and improve natural resources and ecosystems, and carry the burden of the cost in doing so. A fundamental disconnect in our agricultural system is that, as organic farmers, we have to pay to do the right thing, and often to mitigate the negative effects born of conventional methods. More generally, organic farmers shoulder a heavier burden of cost than conventional (i.e., non-organic) counterparts who are able to pass their financial burdens onto the public (through steep subsidies and federal crop insurance) and longer-term hidden costs. Another reason why it’s important for organic farmers to be counted and their voices heard.
Organic is an important choice. Certification provides an important framework and baseline, but as farmers and community members, we must continually look beyond it. To do better, and do more, for our soil, our food, and our people.