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Alternatives to organic certification

Organic or conventional - the choice is up to you.
Organic or conventional - the choice is up to you.

"Organic" has been the buzzword in farming and gardening for quite some time.  Health-conscious consumers are willing to pay a premium for organically-produced food.  Whether in grocery stores, farmers markets, or CSA's (community supported agriculture), the food usually comes from producers who are "certified organic."  This means these farms follow certain practices laid out by the USDA via the National Organic Program (NOP) such as composting, crop rotation, and using no synthetic pesticides or herbicides.  This requires an inspection and certification process which is often time-consuming and rather costly.  Since small producers often cannot afford the pricetag of the NOP, but still wish to market their organic wares, several alternatives have been created.

One of the most common programs is Certified Naturally Grown (CNG).  The methods of production are practically identical to certified organic farming, but the program is directed toward small-scale growers.  Inspections are most often conducted for free by other CNG farmers.

Participatory Guarantee Systems are a worldwide collection of organic quality assurance programs under IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.)  IFOAM's aim is to offer low-cost, locally-based guidance, support, and inspections for small-scale or poor farmers striving to succeed at organic production.  These programs link consumers to their local farmers in order to develop relationships and establish accountability.

The Midwest has it's own organization dedicated to organic farmers: the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES).  Based in Spring Valley, WI, MOSES offers resources to new organic growers.  They provide guidebooks, a mentoring program, workshops, and yearly conferences.  While not a certifying agency, MOSES does assist farmers though the certification process.

When in doubt about the practices of a food producer, it is best to ask, especially if they are local to you.  Most farmers, and organic growers in particular, are happy to discuss their operation with their customers.