We are actually in that position of using organic practices, yet we aren’t yet certified. We went through certification in summer 2012, and most of the farm passed but a few details for the hogs and poultry snagged us during the inspection. We were given the option to fix those items prior to the end of 2012 (it was already the end of September), and PAY to go through the certification process again, or just make the changes and re-apply in 2013. The certification office made the offer to credit part of our 2012 application fee, towards our 2013 application. That made more sense, so that’s the direction we went. Yet when we re-applied in 2013, our state ag department “lost” the confirmation of that credit. We hadn’t budgeted for the whole balance, only the amount which the credit didn’t cover. So when they lost that credit, we didn’t go forward with our certification this year. We will try again in 2014, and we’ll budget for the full amount so that if they “find” that credit, it’ll be a happy surprise. So yes, there are folks out there who are very diligent about meeting certified organic standards, and aren’t yet certified for some legitimate reason. If that’s the case, they should be happy to provide any information about those practices if/when asked.
Having said that, many MANY growers are using the claim that they ‘follow organic practices but aren’t certified’ as a dodge. I know of multiple instances just in my area of folks who use that claim, but don’t meet the standards. For instance, a gal who claims she follows organic practices for her meat birds, but “is forced to give them antibiotics because they keep getting sick”. Um, no, antibiotics in the feed, or given medicinally, is strictly not allowed for meat birds or layer birds under certified organic rules. Once they have that medication, they’re no longer certified. She doesn’t want to clean up her chick brooding area to prevent disease, so she gives drugs in the feed to treat it. That’s about as non-organic as a person could be, but she claims to be following organic practices. Another grower “only uses a little bit of pesticide” but claims to be following organic practices too. That’s also not only prohibited under certified organic standards, but it demonstrates that the grower has no idea about what they’re doing, and doesn’t care enough to look it up.
When a grower is certified, the buyer has quite a bit of assurance that they’re following those practices. Every farm has to be re-inspected every year to maintain the certification, and the paperwork trail we’re required to maintain is quite extensive. It’s not enough to just “clean up the farm” for inspection day. I have to show all the feed I bought, all the soil inputs I bought, all of the supplements or treatments or cleaning agents I used. I have to document my normal feeding regimen, grazing rotations and crop management practices. I have to show which of my animals was sick and/or died, how I treated them, etc etc etc. it’s expensive to get the certification then blow it by falling off the wagon, so the list of folks who are certified and then lose their certification is pretty short. Meanwhile, it’s cheap to make the clam that they ‘couldn’t’ get certification, but that they’re following the practices. That claim is worthless.
In my previous email, I specifically did not mention whether to seek out certified organic, because that’s a choice every buyer has to make for themselves. Some folks have to buy certified organic, thanks to health issues like allergies to antibiotics and the like. Or they are strongly motivated by concerns about pesticide residue, etc. Certified organic can be, but isn’t necessarily, more expensive. Our pricing is based on our costs, not our pending certification. But many folks claim to be following organic practices specifically so that they can charge higher prices. So here as always, buyer beware. If organic produce/meat/dairy/eggs are important, there’s no substitute for organic certification. Way too much abuse of the “I follow organic practices but I’m not certified” claims. When in doubt, ask if they’re certified. If they try the “we follow those practices but we’re not certified”, ask them why not. Ask them for their livestock management methods, or their crop rotation plans, or whatever details might be of concern. If they start hedging their answers, walk away.