We’re getting asked these questions more and more and the term “Organic” has become widely used yet also widely misunderstood. Ignoring the obvious, that any carbon based substance is organic, and focusing specifically on the more widely intended definition… that of ’foodstuff grown or raised without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides’, I can say we’re much closer to the mark.
But on the farmers market (and in the supermarket), the term “Organic” takes on a much more specific meaning. One is only allowed to legally use the term if their company subscribes to one of the organic production schemes administered by one of several certification authorities. There are seven different certification authorities in the UK. Each have their own criteria and costs for becoming certified. The Soil Association has the most well known programme. Basically, producers comply with the standards of the program and are vetted over a period of years. Once certified, they are then allowed to use the “Organic” description to market their products. And of course they can command a premium for this produce.
So far, we have not yet signed up with any of the organic franchises. We are always reviewing both the advantages and disadvantages of these schemes (and others) and we will certainly join if we determine it will be in the best interest of the business. We are; however, supremely confident both of the healthiness and traceability of our crops.
We manage our greenhouses using a system called “Integrated Crop Management” (ICM). ICM has evolved specifically to address the growing concerns of ‘traceability’ and ‘healthiness’ of our food. It emphasizes various, progressive steps designed to keep crops healthy and productive. It starts with obvious steps such as reducing weeds, companion planting and environmental controls. We know that these good practices will dramatically reduce the risks of pests and diseases; however, in the unfortunate event of these problems ICM offers many options, depending on the unique situation, including biological controls right through to using safe, government approved insecticides as a last resort.
Peppers, which are our main crop, are very resilient to pests and diseases and historically we’ve not needed to use chemicals. The main challenge is aphids. We have always found that biological controls are effective in dealing with our little green nemesis’.
If you really feel strongly about ‘organic’ food then I encourage you to learn more about the various schemes and what they really mean.
For example; did you know that “organic” produce can be sprayed? That’s right, certain chemicals ‘are’ allowed within the various organic scheme’s. There’s a good chance your ‘organic’ potato has, in fact, been sprayed since the soil association programme allows the use of up to seven different chemicals.
Also, not all producers or sellers who use the term organic are actually certified. If you feel strongly about organic products then I encourage you to get your supplier to prove it by showing you their certificate.
And make sure the certificate covers the products that you’re buying. Many producers will only be certified in one (1) crop. An organic producer, for example, may only be certified in sweet corn but they might also grow and sell potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and brussel sprouts.
Finally, it’s important to point out that much of the produce sold as Organic here in the UK is imported from abroad where the organic schemes, standards, and importantly, enforcement, are very different than those in place here in the UK.
I know these points complicate the issues; however I think the answer is simple. My suggestion is to buy your produce from local producers. You can find them at your local farmers markets, farm shops and box schemes. Speak to the seller and ask them how they grow their crops. And, if you’re looking for an Organic producer, there’s a good chance you will very likely find a ‘local’ one at the market.