For as long as I can remember customers have asked the question- “is everything organic?” To which I reply- “everything is locally grown and sourced by farmers and artisans practicing sustainable farming methods.” Usually this is enough and they move along satisfied with the answer. A handful of people can not get pass the organic label. They need the seal of certification to feel comfortable with the product. Imagine that, trusting the government regulators over your local farmer!
I have spent the past month touring small farms and dairies in Northern and Southern California. In almost every case, the farmers have shared the same philosophy with me when asked where they stand on organic certification. They take great care of their animals to ensure they are healthy. Should one suffer from an infection or illness, the animal is removed from the herd and given medication just as one would for themselves or a child. The animal is not reintroduced back into the herd until the medication has been completely filtered out of the system.
Many hardcore proponents of organic farming take exception to this, believing it does not match their purist ideals. The counter argument is that a sick animal is one that is suffering and should be relieved of discomfort when possible. I side with the humane treatment of animals even if it interferes with politicized certification. Another extreme barrier to entry for a lot of small farmers is the time for which farms need to wait until they may apply for certification. For farmers growing produce the soil needs to be tested and free from any fertilizer or pesticide for at least three years. For dairy farms it is much more extreme at twelve years. Most looking to get into farming can not afford to make this conversion. As a result, farmers have begun to put their money into what matters and not the administrative costs of certification. The result is more farmers practicing sustainable farming at a level where they can ”sustain” the profitability of their business and still deliver a superior product that is unique and healthy.
When we opened the first Tender Greens in Culver City five years ago we made a decision not to list any items as “organic”. Instead, we focused on supporting small, local farmers with whom we had direct relations with and trusted the practices they employed. Scarborough Farm is one such farm. They use the same farming practices for all of their products yet only some carry the “certified organic” stamp. The cost of certification and the time necessary to arrive at this point is just impractical. Taste our lettuces, nothing compares to Scarborough, certified organic or sustainably grown. So next time you find yourself caught up in a debate about organics remember, we have moved on to the next chapter of sustainability, where farming , logistics, energy usage, and profitability all have an important role to play.
- Erik Oberholtzer
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