Growing Organic USDA and the Labeling Dispute

| 6/10/2015 3:03:00 PM

Rima AustinI have recently become involved in local “politics,” for lack of a better term. Our small town of about 5,100 residents, Sparta, Tennessee, has its own farmers’ market. While local farmers have been selling their produce in town for a while, it has only been recently that we have acquired a pavilion in which all the growers can come under one roof to sell. Some residents have formed a group called “Discover Sparta” that focuses on making our town a better place to live and bring in more tourism. One of the things on the agenda is the upgrade and promotion of our farmers’ market.

Sparta Downtown

This is downtown Sparta; courtesy 

No organic sealIt has only been within the last two years, since living on my small farm, that I have been exposed to the culture of the market. I knew when I started growing produce that I would be raising it organically. I made an effort to buy my seeds from a reputable seed company and I kill pests the old Irish way, with my hands. When I took my produce to the market I wanted to be able to proudly say that my produce is organic, and naturally so, after all the work I put into it. You can understand then why I was a little bit heartbroken when, during a “Discover Sparta” meeting, it was mentioned that in order to make our market more legitimate we would no longer be able to label our produce organic without first being certified through the USDA.

Seal courtesy USDA Agriculture Marketing Service

My friend Margaret, who made the suggestion, was doing so with the best intentions, and I am on board with whatever we have to do to help our market expand so I did not dispute it. However, I did want to find out what it would take for me, and others who were interested as well, to be able to fly an “organic” sign at our booth. My suspicions that others were interested in more organic products being sold at the market were only confirmed when Margaret created a survey asking residents what they would like to see more of at the market.

She created the survey herself and through social media we were able to expose it to a sizable audience. The response was very pleasing. Of the 81 percent who said they would definitely shop at the market, some of them said they would only do so if they could find organically grown food. This answer was one of the top topics at the next meeting concerning the farmers’ market, and the subject came up that we would not be able to sell products at the market labeled “organic” without following strict USDA guidelines. So, like I mentioned in the beginning, I was on a quest to figure out what those were for small farmers and do whatever it takes for us to be able to do it.

6/11/2015 9:11:59 AM

Rima, as I read your post my thought was the one that you addressed at the end of your post about any one could claim to be organic even if they weren't. Many of my blogger friends refuse to be catagorized as organic because the term has so been changed by market selling even in grocery stores. Rather they have coined the phrase chemical free which requires no certification to sell any thing. I'm glad to hear that your community is so market oriented and has interest in good chemical free food. I wish you all the luck for this year and your endevour to improve the food for your area. ***** Have a great day preparing for the market.

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