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Grow Your Own Way


Small farmers across the U.S. are dropping their organic certification. By Alisa Opar


Luci Brieger is no stranger to the organic food movement. For nearly two decades Brieger and her husband Steve Elliott have run Lifeline Produce, selling natural produce in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley.

Last year, the couple took what might seem to be a strange step for people so devoted to sustainable food production: They dropped their organic certification and created a local group, the Montana Sustainable Grower’s Union, which is made up of more than a dozen farms in the northwest corner of the state. Now the sunflowers, kale, eggplant and tens of other crops from Lifeline Produce are sold under a new label, Homegrown.

“The only reason we don’t use the word organic is because of the legality of it—we haven’t changed our farming practices for the last 18 years,” says Elliott, adding that they now call their produce "sustainable."

Brieger and Elliott are among a growing number of small farmers across the nation opting out of the  government’s organic certification program. Nearly 500 farmers in 47 states have joined Certified Naturally Grown, a national non-profit alternative certification program that is tailored to small-scale, direct-market organic farmers. Generally, those that switch to an alternative certification follow what most people consider to be organic practices: They don’t use genetically engineered seeds or synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, they treat livestock humanely, and employ sustainable management practices such as composting and crop rotation.  

Under Grower’s Union guidelines, members pledge to sell and buy locally, improve their land stewardship, and use no synthetic pesticides, hormones, or antibiotic-laced feeds. They take turns inspecting each others’ farms on a schedule that ensures no two farmers check each others’ operation. Some of the members have retained their organic certification, and Brieger says they benefit from something the National Organic Program lacks—an opportunity for farmers to share knowledge about how to handle pests and address other problems small farmers in the same area might be dealing with.

“Organic can sometimes be practiced today on giant farms with monoculture and absentee management,” says Brieger. “Somehow with NOP we’ve lost the connection of sustainable and local with organic.”

Reestablishing that connection is part of what’s driving farmers to drop the government’s organic seal, but there are two other reasons, according to Karen Klonsky, an agriculture economist at U.C. Davis: “Money and time.” Maintaining organic certification costs thousands of dollars and eats up hours managing paperwork and staying on top of the ever-changing list of which insecticides, composts, potting soils, and other products are, and aren’t, permitted.

“If you’re growing something being manufactured into something else, like grain for bread or cereal, you have to have that certification,” she says. “But if you’re direct marketing locally, and people buy your goods, it certainly might be just as advantageous not to have that certification.”

That certainly seems to be the case for the farmers in the Grower’s Union.

“Homegrown has been successful,” says Paul Rosen, produce manager for the Missoula-based Good Food Store. Last spring, Good Food Store became one of the first markets to begin selling produce with the Homegrown label. “People are always happy know they’re getting something from a local source.”

When customers ask whether the food is organic, Rosen passes along one of the brochures the Grower’s Union provides, which explains their guidelines and provides contact information.

"Customers are looking for food that doesn't have poison on it," says Rosen. "If I tell them we don't have organic but we do have Homegrown, which is grown without any pesticides or fungicides by local farmers, they say, 'Great, I want that.'"


Comments

How to kill pests without killing yourself or the earth......

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We are losing the war against these thousand pests mainly bacause we insist on using only synthetic pesticide POISONS and fertilizers There has been a severe "knowledge drought" - a worldwide decline in agricultural R&D, especially in production research and safe, more effective pest control since the advent of synthetic pesticide POISONS and fertilizers. Today we are like lemmings running to the sea insisting that is the "right way". The greatest challenge facing humanity this century is the necessity for us to double our global food production with less land, less water, less nutrients, less science, frequent droughts, more and more contamination and ever-increasing pest damage.

In order to try to help "stem the tide", I have just finished re-writing my IPM encyclopedia entitled: THE BEST CONTROL II, that contains over 2,800 safe and far more effective alternatives to pesticide POISONS. This latest copyrighted work is about 1,800 pages in length and is now being updated chapter by chapter at my new website at: http://www.stephentvedten.com/ .

We have electronically updated the Introduction, Chapters 11, 15, 16A, 16B, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, and the Glossary of Terms.

Stephen L. Tvedten
2530 Hayes Street
Marne, Michigan 49435
1-616-677-1261

"All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence." – Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leader