Kendall Huntley sees organic certification both ways. He has grown organically since 1996, but hasn’t always had USDA certification. He started as a small-scale farmer, and over time he partnered with other farmers in Buncombe and Yancey Counties who now grow under the name of Whisperholler Farms.
A few years ago, Huntley let his organic certification lapse. He says the paperwork and cost of being certified started to add up. “When it comes down to it, not all of the customers are wanting to pay the fare that organic brings,” he says.
Yet he continued to grow with organic methods. Now he has a new customer: a local herb company that sells certified organic products. Huntley says that he’ll transition his herbs back to certification by the end of the year.
Organic farmers have to decide if certification is right for them, and so do people who eat local food. Huntley has some advice. “Everybody’s got their own outlook on it. If they’re looking just organic, I recommend they go to a local market or a local tailgate and get to know what they’re about,” he says.
Buying directly from farmers is a chance for customers ask about their growing practices, and talking to customers about how something is grown can reduce a farmer’s need for formal certification. When customers buy directly from farmers they can have a conversation about how the food was grown, and these relationships can reduce a farmer’s need for formal certification.
“Building that relationship is key if somebody’s that worried about food safety or security or what’s happening with their food,” he says.