Simplicity Is Key To Getting Organic Certification
Nestled deep in Burke County, just a few miles southwest of the Tobacco Road made famous in Erskine Caldwell novels, sits a simple gray brick farmhouse. In the 1940s, at the height of its hayday, the house was a hub of daily farm activity, surrounded by peach trees and meticulously manicured, brick-lined flower beds. Nearly 70 years later, the peach trees had given way to row after row of planted pines. Weeds and years of rainwater run-off long ago buried the flowerbeds. Decades of exposure and neglect left their mark everywhere.
To our little family, the damage and decay represented a chance at a new life; a fresh start. The farm came to represented renewal, redemption, rebirth; for our family, for the farm, and for good old-fashioned country know-how. Little did we know how our attempts to keep things simple would snowball into becoming a full-fledged certified organic farm business.
It all started with a jaw-dropping phone call from the electricians in charge of replacing the old broken fuse box. After finishing the installation of a replacement weather head and new 200amp panel box, the electricians discovered nothing in the attic. Not an inch of wiring called our attic home. Someone had broken in and cut every scrap of copper out of the attic. The thieves-without-a-clue even tried to disassemble a 5 foot wide attic fan and cram it down a 28' trap door.
Our response? I set loose a gaggle of teenagers armed with sledgehammers, pry bars, even a piece of an old wrought iron railing. Every wall inside the house was turned into a stud skeleton in no time flat. Almost instantly, I became the coolest mom in our old neighborhood for the simple fact that I let teenagers loose with weapons of mass demolition. The only condition was no emergency room visits, please.
Fast forward to 2011. While the house renovations are still ongoing, so very much has changed. The garage is now a luxury hen house where fluffy-butted hens happily nest after a day of foraging in the yard. What started as a small 20 foot by 20 foot kitchen garden has grown to cover more than an acre. The foundation for a new solar-powered barn has been laid. Most importantly, we've found several local outlets for selling our surplus organic eggs and produce. Eventually, we plan to produce low-carbon, free range beef and dairy, using some of those same local outlets.
First, however, we have to get through the organic certification process. For the time being, since we sell less than $5,000 a year, the USDA does not require official certification before we can sell our eggs and produce as 'organic.' Once we finish the barn and fencing, however, our yearly sales will most certainly increase. Since the USDA requires records on everything applied to the land for three years prior to applying for certification, everything we do today will affect the certification process later.
There are alternatives to the USDA's National Organic Program, most of which are are less expensive. For example, Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) costs less than 10% of the fees associated with getting USDA certified. However, CNG uses the same standards for certification as the USDA. CNG asks for a $75 donation to the organization to cover the cost of paperwork and inspection, as opposed to around $750 for USDA certification, depending on which certifying agent you choose.
We plan to opt for both organizations, since they are the two most recognized names in organic certification. The process is the same for both; file an application, pay a fee, set up an organic plan with an independent certifying agent, have the farm inspected by said agent, make any recommended changes, and keep within production standards once certified. For us, the certification process will be pretty straight forward, once we have three years of records to show, because we already employ natural, organic methods for everything.
In an effort to keep things simple and natural, not to mention as cheap as humanly possible, everything we use, from feed to bedding to fertilizer, comes from the farm. We incorporate biodynamic farming principles everywhere - even using downed trees for fence posts.
We let the grass grow in certain spots to cut later for the hens' nest bedding. We let the chickens and companion planting manage pest control in the garden. Henhouse litter and rabbit cage droppings provide fertilizer. Garden cast-offs provide livestock fodder and compost material. Worms from the compost bin aerate the garden soil naturally. We're growing living fences to keep in livestock, provide rot-resistant wood, prevent erosion and give the livestock more fodder.
We didn't start out to be organic. We started out to be frugal and keep from accidentally poisoning anything. We started out looking for ways to let nature take its course and reduce our daily chore list. Lucky for us, those efforts mean we'll breeze through the certification process...just as soon as we have three years of records to document there's no residual junk in the ground. For more please visit WholeNews.Org.