i working on getting my little slice of heaven officially certified organic. i’ve struggled with this decision for a number of years, i remember watching the irishman i worked at where i did most of my training going though the same difficult decision making. certainly the costs of getting certification have to be considered, i’m looking at 600 dollars at least, perhaps more. i’m hoping i can get that covered though the organic cost sharing measures that are in current farm bill. it’s one of the few parts of the farm bill that’s even a benefit to me so i might as well take advantage of it. but i want to take a few minutes to examine my issues with certification
1. certification does nothing to address overall consumption of fossil fuels. certification requires that you have inputs shipped into your area if none are available in your community. while i would argue that yes organic growers should use local certified organic feeds when possible but if it’s not available, you shouldn’t be shipping things in thousands of miles. at the same time produce traveling in from overseas can be organic and yet huge amounts of fossil fuels were spent in the process.
2. certification does nothing to support local networks. certainly it would be preferable to go with organic feed again, but what if you had a neighbor who grew field corn, pretty much by the book organically, but was not interested in certification. you can’t buy from that neighbor since the aren’t certified. you can’t help to create local networks.
3. certification makes no requirements of fair labor practices. i remember in 2001 when the organic standard were finalized after years of debate. i was a lowly intern at the time, and i flipped though the huge document trying to find the area that address fair labor practices. i did have a motive, i was looking for language about living wage or something like that, then point at it and tell my boss he needed to treat me better. of course i never found it because there was nothing to find. i was personally offended. the guide had more to say about the well being of the livestock on the farm than me, and i felt like i was pretty important, i did a lot of work around the place. but the fact remains, there are no previsions for the treatment of workers on farm, folks are still welcome to exploit to their hearts content
4. certification is weak and controlled by agribusiness. the standards are pretty much dumbed down from the original vision to make it easy for the big farms to convert there conventional farms without having to make major changes to there methods, just substituting organic fertilizers for high nitrogen fertilizers, switching from toxic chemicals to less toxic organic pesticides.
5. you can’t certify love and i’d argue you need to have love to be a good organic farmer. you need to love what you do, and the people you are growing for, you have to love the soils, plants, and animals in your care.
i’m sure i could go on this way for awhile, but i’ve certainly gone on long enough for you to see i’m not that hip to certification. so why an i pursuing this? i’m still asking myself the same thing, but really what it comes down to is marketing. for one, the farm would end up being one of the first urban farms in this county to be certified organic, certainly the first in motown. it would be a great p.r. and give us a distinctive niche in the market place, some how it just sounds cool to be the motor cities first and oldest certified organic farm. if that was my only motivator then i’d consider myself foolish, 600 dollars a ton of paper work just for a little p.r.? there’s more going on though, part of this is my desire to help other people to be able to certify their spot if they want, and this way i’ve already gone though the headaches. this way i can guide them though the process. a final advantage is the idea of a business incubator, that we could lease part of our land to individuals who want to start a small business and that way the certification would cover there product as well, allowing them to market their product for top dollar. in the meantime i’m bogged down in paper work, field plans, seed orders, labels of all the inputs used on the fields. i almost stopped filling out the paper work, but in the end, i finished it, all that left to do is get that big check, and put it in the mail, then wait for the folks to call me up and tell me all the things i did wrong.