Are we organic?
We get this question a lot. And while it is a yes or no question, there’s much more that goes into it.
Here are the facts: No we aren’t organic. We own 2,300 acres, 1,300 of which we plant. There are farms bigger, same size, and smaller than us that are organic. Many people buy exclusively organic due to health concerns. The only input we’re using on teff fields is Latigo (the only herbicide that won’t kill teff) and nitrogen which is a type of fertilizer. And we never spray Latigo directly on teff.
There are a couple of reasons we aren’t organic at the moment. Our farm has been here since 1837. Since then, each farm owner has slowly added, to the best of his ability, land to the farm so there’s almost constantly new land that we’re learning about and testing the soil nutrient levels.
I’ve attended workshops led by organic certifiers and the process isn’t easy even though it sounds straightforward. Pick an organization that will certify you. Document the last day you put prohibited inputs on the field. Wait three years from that day. Go through inspection with the organic inspector.
Here are some of the details: everything including how often and the methods of cleaning equipment used on the future organic field must be documented. All inputs should be cleared by your certifier to make sure they’re allowed under USDA law. Some certifiers are better suited for crop farms but they may be further away and all travel costs are on the farmer. Anything grown on a transitioning field for those 3 years cannot be sold as organic but costs significantly more than conventional to produce.
There’s also the question of whether it would pay off. Would buyers be willing to pay a steep premium on a “new” ancient grain?
There are many more details especially if we’d only be transitioning one or two fields. If we had a smaller farm, it would be much easier and more affordable. As it stands now, there’s only 1 full time employee on the farm while my dad splits his time between the farm and his law practice.
Going organic isn’t possible at the moment but that doesn’t mean it’s off the table for good. Right now is not the right time but we do other environmentally sustainable and soil healthy practices. Since the 1970’s we’ve been no-till on the majority of our land. We practice crop rotation and use cover crops to help return nutrients to the soil. We’re also currently going through the process to become a MAEAP certified farm (more details on what that means here).
Going organic is a big decision and for a farm that’s currently in the middle of a big shift, it’s not a priority at the moment. If you feel strongly about this and know a farmer or go to farmers markets, have an open conversation with them about it! They might have a different stance than us but we have to do what’s best and economically sustainable for us right now.
Any remaining questions, please send us an email! Just fill out the form here.