People often ask the market gardener “Why don’t you get yourself ‘certified organic’, instead of fudging by saying ‘we produce stuff as naturally as possible’?” Two people have even asked me, so far.

The short answer is cost. You have to pay a fee, every year, for each item you want to be certified in. I haven’t checked lately, but the number that sticks in my head is $800. So, say I want to have my potatoes ‘certified organic’, it costs $800 per year, and my lettuce, another $800, and so on. If I only produce $500 worth of potatoes, well, you get the picture. And red tape, the process is unbelievably difficult.

There is also a long answer. Canada and the US agree to use each other’s standards as to what is organic, and as the US is so much bigger, in reality this translates into Canada follows the US. There is a very long list of what you can do and what you cannot do, and still be ‘certified organic’. This list is created and maintained or modified by the “National Organic Standards Board”. This board was set up and is dominated by the US government, which appoints members to the board; bureaucrats, representatives of supplier companie; modern (corporate) farmers; no small farmers and only token consumer reps.

You might think organic means no chemical herbicides or pesticides or fungicides or fertilizers or genetically modified organisms or detrimental tillage/drainage practices, no slave labour. If so, you would be surprised — this is not so at all. The NOSB list determines which chemicals and GM products you can use, when, and under what circumstances, and still be ‘certified organic’, and the board is continuously horse-trading as to changes to that list.

To be fair, being totally chemical-free is not practical, even your grandmother’s washing soda or lime or gypsum or bone meal or wood ash or vinegar are actually chemicals. And you have to ask, for example, is phosphorus derived from bone really more acceptable than phosphorus chemically extracted from phosphate rock? It gets really complicated.

Being government, of course, the NOSB is highly political, decisions being made in the political way, “OK, when it is time to vote, I will support your fungicide, if you will support my GM seed”. This naturally results in some difficult to understand decisions. Example, agricultural lime made by burning limestone in a kiln (no chemicals, just heat) is not acceptable as organic, while agricultural lime made by chemically treating limestone is acceptable. Go figure!?

So ‘certified organic’ is basically an advertising term. It is useful in assuring the consumer that the big company selling the stuff is at least following some rules. But it doesn’t apply to small producers who cannot afford the red tape involved, and it certainly does not imply that ‘growing as naturally as I can’ is inferior. ‘Growing as naturally as I can’ is my personal promise to you, while ‘certified organic’ is a US government term.

Just a bit of advertising from a hobby-scale market gardener.

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