Monday, May 3, 2010

Organic Certification for Small Farms

When I visit with folks who are thinking about starting out a new enterprise I always tell them to start small and to grow as their market grows.  This enables the producer to learn how to grow or raise the crop and how to market it.  This is especially the case if the producer is interested in growing organically due to the regulations.  The National Organic Standards does have a small farm exemption. 

The National Organic Standard requires that all organic farms must be certified. However, those selling less than $5,000 of organic products each year are exempt from certification.  Exempt farms are expected to follow the National Standard, but they do not undergo annual site inspections or any review of the practices and materials they use for growing and handling crops. Very small growers—those who raise and sell organic produce as much as a hobby as to supplement income—often don’t understand that the law even applies to them!  But it still does even if you sell less than $5,000 per year.

There is a great publication called Small Scale Organics: A Guidebook for the Non-certified Organic Grower (Includes Guidelines and an Organic System Plan) which is a quick assessment tool that covers the main issues and factors that will tell you whether your small farm or market garden meets the Federal requirements and whether you may sell your produce or other products as organic. It does not substitute for the rigorous inspection and review process of organic certification. Still, it should give you a pretty good idea whether you can legally call your operation and your produce “organic.”

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