What Does Organic Really Mean?

Organic food sales are up in the United States. Consumer demand shows double-digit growth, and sales reached nearly $36 million dollars in 2014. But what does “organic” really mean?

The USDA organic label indicates the farm has been certified as organic by the USDA and is prohibited from using synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or growth hormones.

Farms go through an extensive application process to become USDA certified. And each year, farmers must pass an inspection to confirm that their practices match their records. Costs may range from few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the size and type of operation.

Some farms may decide not to become certified, but still grow without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. They may be committed to organic practices, but determine that the time and cost is prohibitive. Other farms get certified initially, but eventually decide that certification isn’t needed for them to produce food with the same organic methods.

So what’s a consumer to do? Organic labeling is common in grocery stores, but harder to spot at farmers markets. One way to find out if a farm is certified organic is to ask the farmer, but a yes or no answer might not give a full picture. It’s also helpful to ask about their growing methods: if they spray, how they fertilize, and what they do when pests attack.

In future episodes, we’ll be talking with farmers who’ve made this decision: to certify or not to certify organic. In the meantime, many farmers list their growing practices at ASAP’s online Local Food Guide at www.appalachiangrown.org

Aired 7/18/16

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