Q: Is ARTfarm food really “organic”?
A: It depends.
Luca has been farming on St. Croix to the specifications of the USDA’s National Organic Program (which regulates the certification of organic produce and farms in the USA) continuously since 1999. According to the techniques logged in our detailed farm records, we have either met or exceeded the USDA standards for the production of organically grown produce consistently over that entire period. ARTfarm in its current location is situated on pastureland that has been farmed and ranched (free of any chemicals or non-sustainable methods) continuously since the 1700s. However, we have not been certified officially by the USDA as a certified organic farm. Therefore, even though all of our produce is organically grown to USDA Organic specs, we cannot and do not legally claim that any of our products are “USDA Organic”.
MANY if not MOST small farms that fall under the jurisdiction of the USDA have chosen NOT to get certified, not because they aren’t practicing organic production techniques, but because it is a lengthy and rather expensive process that for the most part does not justify its expense. Unless you are a large farm growing commodity amounts of a crop to be sold as certified organic for use in packaged products, organic certification with the USDA is a marketing strategy. It does not change one’s farming philosophy or choice for or against sustainable techniques.
So, if a customer asks us if our arugula is organic, the answer is “officially, it is not considered organic by the USDA because it is not certified.” If a customer asks us if our arugula is grown to the standards of the USDA National Organic Program, we would say “Yes, all of our produce at ARTfarm is grown to the USDA organic specifications. We keep detailed records, we use sustainable farming methods, only when absolutely necessary do we sparingly use nonsynthetic treatments only of the type that are OMRI certified for use on organic farms. However we have not been inspected by a USDA approved organic certifying agency.”
If a customer asks us WHY we are not certified organic, we’d say, “We pursued it seriously and actively and found this: it’s incredibly expensive and not eco-friendly to fly in and house a USDA certified inspector from off island ANNUALLY, it involves reams of federal paperwork that is onerous and uses up many man-hours in labor, and we don’t believe our customers want to offset that cost in our prices. We’ve already got enough documentation chores from the local Department of Ag, and the USDA’s NRCS and FSA. We’d rather spend the time and energy growing more food. It simply does not align with our core values or the needs of our business to spend money and time getting USDA Certified.”
If a customer asks us WHY we bother to grow sustainably and organically, we’d say “We’re parents. We care about safety and want to trust that our farm is free from harmful substances. We’re artists. Organic sustainable growing is more harmonious, fascinating, challenging, and personally and aesthetically satisfying. We’re conscious humans. We care about stewarding the environment in the next seven generations and beyond. Big Ag loves to debate it, but we and the FAO think growing organically with sustainable practices is better for the planet. We’re foodies, and we agree with our customers and chefs who constantly tell us the food tastes better when you put that kind of care and love into it.”
Does it really matter if your produce is: locally grown with organic approved methods, by conscientious people you know personally, or: certified organic by a federal agency?
Our position is, yes, and no.