Something is new on the farm. Although we have always been certifiable, we are now certified.

Organic certification is a process that farms must complete every year in order to advertise as “Organic”. The farm where I work has always adhered to organic principles in their vegetable production, but just this week became officially certified by Vermont Organic Farmers.

This is new, but nothing here has changed. Organic has been official since 2002, when the USDA implemented the National Organic Program, creating national standards for organic food.

The organic certification process requires a lot of record keeping and annual review, and it’s understandable why farmers, notorious of their busy schedules, sometimes can’t find the time to certify.

Though nothing is different in our vegetable production, our reputation is different, and larger buyers have already started to place larger orders. Certification keeps us accountable and honest. But does it keep us organic?

Isn’t filling out a bunch of forms stating that we use organic practices a more tedious version of the honor system? Soil tests for chemical residues remain voluntary for organic producers, and even well-intentioned farmers are growing in soil left toxic by generations of non-organic farming.

When harvesting bunched beets today, I could only get 24 of 36 bunches, because the chioggia variety (a mere ten feet from the red ace variety) are not organic. They are in one of two rows of crops that are within 50 feet of our neighboring conventional corn operation. Organic guidelines recommend a 50 foot buffer zone without a dense hedgerow separating the fields. Here organic, there not.

The point is, that although the organic certification guidelines are an important step in developing healthy food systems, they are not flawless hard lines. Oftentimes local non-certified vegetables are a far more nutritious option, certifiably.