So you’ve seen the NOFA Farmer’s Pledge sign hanging at your local farmers’ market or heard the phrase used by us at the Open House or when we’re explaining what growing practices we use, but you’re really not sure what it means. Enter the confusing world of Certified Organic, Certified Naturally Grown, Homegrown, Sustainably Grown, Grown with Love and how the NOFA Farmer’s Pledge fits into this mayhem.
Who knew that deciding what you want to label your vegetables as comes with so many legal and ethical considerations? When we tell people about our farm and our growing practices, we are not allowed, legally, to use the word “organic.” There are several different institutions in the United States that certify that products meet organic standards. The biggest and most recognized is the USDA. To be able to put the “USDA Organic” label onto our vegetables, we would have to fill our a lengthy application, host a nationally-recognized inspection, and keep records of the tractors that have driven on our land, the chemicals that have been used there in the past, and move our field much farther away from the GMO corn that grows there.
Since we are pretty limited in where we can grow and cannot go back in time to tell the farmers who used to cultivate this land to keep better records of what they sprayed and when, we simply do not qualify for organic certification. We could call our fields “in transition” and keep records for three years of how we have been growing using the “organic standards,” but as long as part of our field is used by the dairy farm and houses GMO corn, we’re out of luck. The same goes for “Certified Naturally Grown,” though instead of a nationally-qualified inspector, our farm would be inspected by a fellow farmer who also participates in the Naturally Grown program.
Your’e probably scratching your heads a little bit at this point. “I’ve definitely heard them use the word “organic” when talking about their produce. Are these kids breaking the law?” We-ell…. We cannot use the organic label or tell consumers that we are selling organic vegetables. We can, however, grow our vegetables in a way that adheres to the organic standards without paying the fee or applying for certification. There is no one telling farmers that they can’t be good to their land and not spray chemicals! This is where those creative terms like Sustainbly Grown, Homegrown, Grown With Love, and lots of others come into play. Farmers who grow using organic standards, typically on a small-scale who interface directly with their customers can use these terms to start a dialogue with their customers about their growing practices.
It’s in this divide of farmers growing using organic standards who do not choose to apply for national certification that the NOFA Farmer’s Pledge comes in. It’s not a replacement for Organic Certification. We still can’t use the word organic or put anything that says that word on our labels. The pledge can be taken by farmers who are Certified Organic. It’s simply a way for us to advertise to our customers in a consistent way that we care about what goes into their bodies. We care about health and safety on our farm. We care about sustainable agriculture and the movement away from chemical-reliant, costly monoculture that hurts the farms and the consumers.
When you see a farm has taken the NOFA Farmer’s Pledge, you can know all of these things without having to ask specifically what “Grown with Love” or “Homegrown” means. That doesn’t mean you’re off the hook, asking farmers about their growing practices. Part of taking the NOFA Farmer’s Pledge acknowledges that the farmers are opening themselves up to consumer evaluation. We want you to ask us why we’re growing this way. We want to show you how our vegetables are super healthy and how they are helping the land. So ask away! Put any questions about how we grow according to the NOFA Farmer’s Pledge in a comment of find Jay or Laura on a pickup Monday and ask them face-to-face. We love questions!
Here’s a link to the NOFA Farmer’s Pledge in its entirety: http://issuu.com/nofa-ny/docs/editable_certificate.docx
And a link to the article Laura wrote for New York Organic News, about The Farmers’ Pledge: http://issuu.com/nofa-ny/docs/nyon_summer14_apr23
and the USDA Organic Standards http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=3f34f4c22f9aa8e6d9864cc2683cea02&tpl=/ecfrbrowse/Title07/7cfr205_main_02.tpl