When shopping at the local farmers’ market, you probably won’t find a lot of farmers using conventional agricultural methods. In fact, the majority avoid inputs like pesticides or excessive chemical fertilization. However, not all the bounty can be called “certified organic”.
Since 2002, the “certified organic” label has been controlled by the federal government, but some farms that were previously certified by an independent organization have not participated. Today, many small farmers are choosing alternatives to the expense and paperwork of an organic certificate. By law, however, they cannot use the phrase “certified organic”, unless they choose to adhere to all the government requires.
Certified Naturally Grown is one of those alternatives. Alice Varon, the executive director of CNG, told the Associated Press the program includes over 700 farms in 47 states. “Certified Naturally Grown is tailored for direct-market farmers producing food without any synthetic chemicals specifically for their local communities,” Varon said. “It’s a particular niche of the agricultural world. It’s not in direct competition with the national organic program.”
A local farmer in this organization is Jim Rosselot of Gravel Knolls Farm in West Chester, Ohio. “CNG is farmer inspected, rather than inspected by a third party. It’s less costly for us to maintain this type of certification,” he said. “Also, we maintain integrity through contact. Customers are always coming to the farm, to pick certain crops that we offer, to volunteer, or to just hang out.” This is a common theme heard from small farmers.
There’s another disincentive for those whose sales are less than $5000 per year. If these operations use organic methods, they are exempt from certification. Their produce can be labeled “organic”, but not “certified organic”.
Some argue the other side of the coin. Jack Kittredge, editor of "The Natural Farmer," journal of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, told the AP, "My major concern is that sometimes, unless you're certified you're not even aware of some of the problems," such as calling livestock organic even though the animals eat feed containing genetically modified crops.
Guy Ashmore is a local farmer whose Clarksville operation, That Guy’s Family Farm, sells at the Deerfield Farmers’ Market. His farm began moving toward organic methods in 1988, and the entire operation has been certified organic since 2005. He says, “It’s made us better farmers. We pay more attention to our soils, our crop rotation, and how they interact. We believe in organic. This is the gold standard, and we want to be above that. That’s how we support other organic farmers.”
The best way to understand the methods and thinking of a local farmer is still to go to the farmers’ market and ask.