As the son of an extension agent, I have access to some figures that just can’t be found anywhere else except the mind of my father. For instance: how many farms are there in Cabarrus county? The answer: about 400. And of those 400, how many are certified organic? One.
Does that strike you as a little odd? Did you think the number would be higher? It appears that many of the shoppers at our farmers market believe so since I have had the following conversation more times than I’d like to admit.
“Are these peaches local?” they ask.
“Yes,” we reply happily.
“But are they organic?”
“No,” we explain glumly.
It’s a dialogue repeated by most of the farmers on the market regardless of their produce — usually with a tinge of guilt for not having precisely what you want to buy. But a question looms in the background: why aren’t there many organic local farmers?
In the simplest terms, the regulations prevent many farmers from becoming certified organic. Specifically the requirement by the National Organic Program that all land used by organic farms can not have utilized conventional pesticides and other prohibited materials within the past 3 years.
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This particular requirement is the one that vexes our small farmers that want to make the switch to organics more than anything else. It leaves them with two options: 1) They can sell their farm and buy another one that meets the requirements, or 2) they can absorb the cost of organic pesticides for 3 years without being reimbursed at market for the additional cost. Both of these options are really unachievable by the small farmer.
With regards to the first option, small farmers tend to have a great attachment to their land—who could blame them? As for the second option, the cost of organic pesticides can make that route untenable.
But as with most government programs, which the National Organic Program certainly is, there are many more hoops to jump through than this. My father tells me that the one organic farm in Cabarrus County requires about 40 man hours to handle the required paperwork necessary for maintaining its certification. And then there’s the cost of certification.
Between the regulations and the cost there are a great many obstacles that prohibits the average small farmer from getting into the organic game.
But does this really matter? Stay tuned for my next article and find out.
From the Farm,
John is our friend from the east coast who has been involved in agriculture most of his life. At age 13, with his father and brother, he started selling produce at the Piedmont Farmer’s Market which eventually evolved into Goforth’s Garden. Today, they raise peaches, blueberries, and an assortment of other fruits and vegetables to be sold at local markets and through their CSA. John’s other interest include writing, whittling, and woodworking.