It’s rare that we blog twice in the same week (or month…), but Organic Week is just too exciting of time not to keep putting more local organic ideas out there! We wanted to build on the discussion in our earlier post this week (“Debunking local vs organic”) with an explanation as to why organic certification is relevant to the local food scene.
Briefly, certification means compliance with the Canada Organic Standards, which lay out strict production practices for organic agriculture including bans on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, genetic engineering, antibiotics, growth hormones and sewage sludge. Any organic claim is required to be certified to this standard and therefore inspected by a third-party on an annual basis.
Many local food proponents feel that organic certification is not necessary when consumers can get to know and trust their food producers. These relationships are wonderful connections and ACORN most enthusiastically encourages them, along with the merits of organic certification. Both forms of trust are essentially equivalent; organic certification is not meant as a replacement for developing open relationships with customers, and similarly a direct marketing relationship shouldn’t necessarily rule out certification.
There are approximately 120 farmers in Atlantic Canada that are selling organic products to a local market and to them certification provides much more than a guarantee their customers can trust. Each farm’s reasons for choosing to certify are of course different, but the most common reasons ACORN hears include:
1) Becoming certified means you’re automatically accepted into a wonderful community. Organic farmers are very open to sharing information and farmers new to this community note how supportive it feels in contrast to more competitive relationships in non-organic farming circles.
2) The paperwork and record keeping required for certification might be a bit of a chore, but the process is very revealing and has improved their business and farm management.
3) They may already be following the Canada Organic Standard and their provincial government offers funding support to help cover the cost of certification (New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island currently offer this support, but not Nova Scotia or Newfoundland).
4) Most often though, it’s about recognition. Being a part of a national movement matters – organic farmers want to ensure not only that they are recognized for the high standard of environmental stewardship they are achieving on their farm, but also that the efforts of other farmers who have worked hard to develop the Canada Organic Standards over the past decades are credited.
This last point really gets at the greatest value of certification in the local sphere. Both local and organic make great strides in reintroducing trust to grocery shopping, but affecting food system change is about more than only trust. We need to be able to clearly communicate to our governments and industry the change that we want, and choosing organic makes the louder statement.
Just consider the clarity of “we want organic” in contrast to “we want ‘sustainably grown’ food.” The Canada Organic Standard provides a clear outline as to what “organic” means and so debates as to whether GE (genetically engineered) feed is accepted or last resort synthetic pesticide use is permitted don’t have to happen (both practices which are often considered “sustainable”).
It’s the benefit of a universal definition, defined and upheld by a national set of standards, and it allows us to move forward more easily with a tangible alternative to the destructive effects of chemical agriculture.