We produced a certified organic crop for the first time 17 years ago in 1998 – organic food grade white hilum soybeans. A decade later, a partner and I were running 2000 acres of certified organic land. The land on our current farm was completely certified in 2009. However, we are now at an interesting cross-roads, our land is certified organic but none of our products are since we don’t certify our animals.
When we started meat production, the home farm was in transition and we were growing hay and pasture as our transitional crop and therefore our cattle and sheep couldn’t be certified. We were buying weaner pigs and raising them at that time and couldn’t find a local source of certified organic weaner pigs, so we couldn’t certify our pork. We did certify our poultry for a year but when we surveyed you (our customers) about what was most important to you about our meat, certified organic was well down the list. 100% grassfed, humane, and pastured were much more important. So we decided not to certify once we could have. Ironically, for several years we were growing certified organic grain and feeding it to our non-certified pigs and poultry. Our cattle and sheep graze organic pastures and are fed mostly organic hay in the winter (some years we have to purchase hay to supplement our own production). Each year our inspector asks why we don’t certify when what we do generally meets the organic standard. Our answer is time and money. The record keeping required for each individual animal is greater than what we currently do, plus our certification fee would increase significantly (it’s already around $1400). I doubt that having “certified organic” meat would add much value for you (our customers) and therefore, we wouldn’t be able to justify raising our prices to cover the increased costs.
Silvia and I have been mulling over dropping the certification on our land for a couple of years. I’ve been reluctant – I’ve had certified organic land almost as long as I have been farming. “Organic” has been the one consistent label I’ve identified with for most of my farming career. I’ve been at it long enough that I was called a “pioneer” of the Ontario Organic movement recently, but we hardly fit that definition – we stood on the shoulders of people who had been at it for 20 years when we started. Part of my reluctance is the stigma I will feel (whether it is there or not) when I’m at Organic events but I will no longer be a certified Organic farmer. So what? I’ve always argued that if you weren’t certified, you weren’t Organic. I will have separated from my “tribe”. Dropping the certification doesn’t mean anything in our philosophy or management will change, we just won’t be paying someone to look at our paperwork once a year and pronounce it good. Instead, you, our customers will be welcome to inspect our practices. Our first open house in a few years is happening on May 23 from 1-4. Come out and see for yourself what we’re up to.
Our mission is still “To use agriculture to regenerate the planet and create a flourishing future for all living things.” We’ve decided that we can accomplish more with that $1,400+ each year using it for something other than certifying our land. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call us. And remember – our animals are NOT on drugs…just grass.