What is certified Organic and is it worth it?

May 10, 2019

What is certified Organic and is it worth it?

At FarmTableWest, we sell a fair amount of non-local certified Organic produce in shoulder seasons as well as fruit throughout the year. We aren't nearly as excited about this food as our local products in season, but the way we see it is that it's better to have something to eat than nothing. 

For example, we're more than a few years away from growing Bananas and Oranges in Wyoming. It IS possible (I know a guy in Clark who's giving it the old "college try"), but not very realistic. The Banana or Orange that could be grown here would also cost about $20 each when heat costs are factored in. 

There is some greenhouse technology out there that's allowing a farmer in Nebraska to grow oranges in February by only using ground air funneled through 100+ feet of tunnels, but again we're a ways away from being able to fund that here in Wyoming. Still, it IS possible. (for more on Oranges grown in February visit http://www.citrusinthesnow.com/

So since we sell certified Organic products I thought it'd be a good idea to explain a bit about it, why we're not all that excited about it, and why most of our producers are not certified Organic. 

The requirements for Certified Organic began much differently than they are today. Originally the standard was much closer to what our local producers use to produce their food. However, now it has been adjusted to cater to very large producers. This isn't necessarily bad, it just tends to allow some lower quality standards than when farming on a small scale. 

For example, the Organic standard only requires laying hens to have 1 square foot of outdoor space per hen. The reality of this rule that you can produce a tremendous amount of eggs with chickens still almost entirely indoors and very little breathing room. Our egg producers all allow chickens to free range on pasture where they can literally forage for their own food in the warm months. In winter they are confined to heated shelter but still can roam freely instead of a sea of chickens that certified organic allows. 

Much of America's Organic dairy products are still produced in a CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) which is not something I'll go into depth here, but is definitely mot the most pleasant situation for farm animals. (For more on CAFO's visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concentrated_animal_feeding_operation)

There are also certain sprays and soil additives that are allowed in organic vegetable production that are allowed, that are questionable to many small scale producers. 

One thing to think about with this entire topic is that, there are close to 8 billion people on this planet. That is 8 billion mouths to feed. As of this writing we can't magically feed all of those people with small scale agriculture tomorrow. Over time I believe we can, but in the meantime we still have to eat. It's a luxury to be highly particular about how your food is produced. Not a luxury that everyone on the planet has. 

As much as the above farming methods are demonized, at the end of the day they are still producing food for people. These methods are FAR from perfect, but they arose out of practicality. Plus, there really is no perfect farming method. 

At FarmTableWest we tend to think that buying food as close to where it was produced, and from a trusted producer is the best way to eat. But we realize that it's just flat out not practical for everybody to eat this way. At least not yet. 

So for the time being we are grateful to be able to provide certified Organic produce in the shoulder seasons (like now) to bridge the gap between winter and summer. Hopefully as we continue to innovate we'll be able to greatly expand the seasonality of local produce to the point we can provide it year-round. (Working on it as we speak.)

I hope this blog helps shed a little light on the Organic or even the Farm-To-Table debate. In my opinion this entire issue is extremely grey as opposed to black and white. Each community, and each farm has it's own context and reason for doing things. We're just trying to tell everyone about the amazing farming that's already happening in the Big Horn Basin. 

Feel free to shoot me an email at zb@farmtablewest.com to add any thoughts to this discussion or just ask questions!

Thanks so much,

Zach "Good Food Peddler" Buchel

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