Thursday, March 26, 2015

Kissing Organic Certification Goodby




Really? Almost two months since I last posted? What a sloth. Life has consumed me but for a brief moment (spring break at UIUC) I have been spit out long enough to catch up with that handful of blog followers who might yet remain.

In 2009 we completed our first organic certification inspection. We had literally been preparing for it for years as fields must be chemical free for three years before you can be certified. Transition is not easy as the farmer must pay for certified organic feed/seed prior to the point that they can label their products organic and thus receive fair pay, but; we believed in the concept and the practice and so we moved forward.

From 2009-2015 we have proudly labeled our dairy herd, pork and beef as "certified organic", completing the annual inspection paperwork, maintaining the everyday record keeping, following the hundreds of standards, and paying the fees that came to thousands of dollars over the last 6 years. We did all that because the practice, the label, the animals meant that much to us.

But over the last two years we have noticed a trend that is both disheartening and damaging, the lying trend. Practiced by both farmers who want all the glory (aka money) of organic without doing any of the work as well as the USDA themselves who increasingly look the other way when the factory farms they have certified as organic, care for their animals, well like a factory. Sadly both practices are increasing. A walk around an average farmers market will reveal signage stating "Organically Raised Beef" and yet the owner cannot tell you the minimum standard for cattle to be on pasture each year, (the answer is 120 days) and a neighbor of that farmer who supplies grain for those cattle tells us quite openly his grain is your standard GMO corn. 

We've also been well aware of the large industrial farms that have sought and gained organic certification for their thousands of animals yet still keep a large portion uncertified. This allows them to treat one of their organic animals with unapproved antibiotics and merely shift them into the uncertified group for sale. Sadly this is legal but clearly points out that the philosophy of organic, holistic, natural treatment of animals is by far NOT the priority of these so called "farmers."

To clarify, we have felt for many years that organic methods are good, decent, logical manner in which to raise livestock and we sought the label, followed the rules because we believed in what we were doing.  Which is why our chickens are truly free range (not just able to roam free within a 20 x 20 pen) why our hogs have closer to 200 days on pasture (even though no such requirement by USDA's organic program as "organic hogs" can be kept on a concrete lot as long as they are fed organic) and why our dairy herd is often seen in the winter months resting quite happily on snow covered fields in between feedings of certified organic 100% grass hay.  We didn't just preach organic animal care, we lived it.

But, we no longer can ignore the corruption of the organic industry and we no longer want to be associated with it. What might have been a pure intent years ago has become, just like anything else that involves large amounts of money, grossly tainted. During those years when we sold large amounts of packaged meat to natural food stores in Bloomington and Chicago, our non-farm-visiting customers relied on the label to ensure them of a decent product. Now though, all our customers come here to our farm and actually SEE our animals, our practices. Thus, we are choosing to continue everything as we have done it before: feeding only certified organic feed, never using antibiotics except in the event to save an animals life, keeping animals on pasture throughout late spring, summer and fall, etc...etc...etc...but we will discontinue the biased governmental process of organic certification.

Instead, our only surveyors will be our customers.

51 comments:

  1. I admire and respect you for this! So much I could say.........but the written word just wouldn't do it justice. Good on you!

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    1. Thank you Goodwife. Truly not an easy decision.

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    2. I cried a little reading this because those "farmers" have cheapened a word I hold so dear because of all the knowledge and inspiration I have gotten from you and Keith. I support your farm 100% because I have seen "behind the scenes" Farm on Momma Bear! Everyone knows the name South Pork Ranch for a damn good reason!

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    1. no worries John, the animals will still get the same feed, the same care but without the same hassles.

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  3. We love you guys!!!! Keep up the good work south pork!!! :)

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  4. I'm seeing this more and more! I'd like to share your info at Mary's Heirloom Seeds if that's okay. We support farmers with integrity and after following you for several years, I would recommed you to everyone!!!

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    1. Sure Mary, share away! Many thanks for your kind words

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  5. Your honesty and integrity is so warming. Sadly there are more farmers cutting corners than I care to know about. Thank you for standing up and doing what is moral and right.

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    1. Thanks Alicia, we try. Some days we fail, then we're goofy enough to get up and try again!

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  6. You, my dear, are a shining light in a muddied world. I have to admit, I often wondered why you bothered with the government "organic" approval. I have no doubts that YOU were playing by what SHOULD have been the REAL rules, but I personally have almost ZERO faith in the USDA Organic label, and honestly, if I didn't know you personally (well, as personal as this), then I would have probably shunned your product if I saw them in a store and gone for a LOCAL and TRUSTED farmer for my food products. The USDA's theft of the word "Organic" has tainted the word, all for the love of money. The USDA Organic label is not honest, not safe, and certainly not fairly administered, but YOU are, and I am happy that you have dumped them in order to show that you are leagues above them. I think you should label your products "U.S.Donna.Approved, Truly Organic". Or just "DWFR".

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    1. You Carolyn...are the best. I came from this regulated background-nursing-and during the 1980's and 1990's I worked with many regulatory agencies on hospice and pain control issues. Most of the time I worked with decent folk and was able to facilitate some cool changes on the federal and state levels. I took that sense of hope into farming as our farm grew but sadly our government officials desire to control (at the expense of true quality) only increased. You are well aware of all our raw milk issues. Nothing else has warped my sense of decent government more than those years wasted trying to explain to real eejits why raw milk IS NOT the issue they need to be overseeing. There are still a few decent folk who play in that regulatory arena but they are in the minority. The National Organic Program was started with good intentions but is so grossly tainted now I feel it is irreparable. The direct relationship between farmer and consumer however...is stronger than ever!

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  7. Maybe you should form a new society (via a magazine perhaps) and bypass the government's certification. Find a new word for 'organic' (Bio), and go it alone. Carolyn's idea of 'Donna Approved' sounds good.

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    1. "Donna Approved" was the heavy burden my children had to grow up with, won't wish that on anyone. But "intelligent consumer approved" I could certainly get behind.

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  8. We all thank you so much for putting so much work into your food and keeping the integrity of the words certified organic . I am sad you won't keep it up but I also completely understand. It's hard with so much corruption . Keep you head high and do what feels right.

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  9. I'm (finally) reading Michael Pollen's Omnivore's Dilemma, which really goes hand-in-hand with what you are saying. It's no surprise, really. It's what happens when good terms become marketing terms which are used solely to make money. I don't know if there's a way around that, but a lot of perfectly good words have been tubed that way. I've heard that's why some prefer things like "chemical-free", because "organic" doesn't really mean anything anymore. It all boils down to what you all are doing, and I think it keeps food sources close to home for the folks who want to eat this way. That's a good thing.

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    1. Hey Leigh! Organic used to mean the good food we ate out of our parents gardens as kids, then the government got involved and now it just means "more expensive" The term All Natural is big and yet it only applies to the processing portion of the food, has nothing to do with how the animal is fed or cared for. Like you say it all comes down to the ground. Visit your farmer, talk with them, make decisions based on one on one relationships and learn to eat what is in season!

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  10. Donna, I don't blame you one bit, and like others am saddened by this. Time and again I've seen those who insist on letter of the law destroying the spirit of the law. sigh. if I lived closer, i'd be one of your happy customers.

    It does feel like "1984," does it not, where we need to go underground to find real food.

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    1. Oh Megan, you are so right. But as a child of the 60's, a teen of the 70's I love a good protest so please don't feel sad for us. Pity our ridiculous "leaders"

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  11. I've learned to only believe in people and actual practice, not policy and politics. Society incresingly forces decerning indiviuals to seek/confirm own truth instead of swallowing whatever the government/business shills' propaganda. This is a big step for you guys there at SouthPork. We're all behind YOU, Donna, not your increasingly meaningless certificates. We'll always trust you, not them. Bless you.

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  12. This is so sad!!! The earth needs people like you!!!

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    1. We're still here Lynn and we will still raise our animals the same way, just without any nebulous "proof" from our government that we are doing so. :)

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  13. Isn't it the saddest thing when what starts out as a wonderful project is destroyed by the ugliest kind of greed. When people like you want to promote healthier lives for yourselves and others, not to mention the animals you raise, have those motives perverted by thoughtless, stupidity and downright avarice -- is absolutely evil. I wish I could take advantage of the wonderful work you and Keith do ...

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    1. It is sad that once was exciting and different and meaningful became so tainted so fast. Now is the time for independent organic surveyors to develop their own regs that mean something. Like the American Grass Fed Association.

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  14. very disheartening that (once again) greed wins over doing the right thing. glad you're sticking to your practices that you believe in and prefer.

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    1. Thank you Tex. At least we can still take photos without taxation and regulation...or can we?

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  15. Hi Donna,
    Julie and I believe the same as you do. The corruption of the organic label and food in general can't be trusted. We finally closed on our 10 acre farm yesterday to be able to control our own food supply. It was certified organic land and still can be, but for now it will feed us, family, and a few friends veggies, eggs and a chicken or two. We still eat the best pork and beef...and hopefully raw milk again, now that we are closer on weekends...raised in Illinois regardless of a label. We are thinking the certified route, but reading your story, Julie and I will have to reconsider.
    Doug

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    1. So understand all the above Doug, but if you do decide to go the organic roaute we HIGHLY suggest MOSA for your certifying agency. We have no beef with them at all just the NOP itself. Bottom line as you well know; no matter how you decide to raise your products be honest with your customers. Labels can never replace relationships

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  16. Thanks for posting your thoughts Donna. We have chosen a similar route in that we aren't and don't intend to be certified. Rather we have chosen to be 100% transparent with our customers. Like you, we are open to visitors, and are happy to tell our story, what we feed, how we do it, where the animals live, etc.

    Keep fighting the good fight.

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  17. I wonder what Organic Farmer Donna O Shaughnessy thinks of this alternative to USDA Organic certification ? https://www.naturallygrown.org/programs

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    1. We have worked with other farmers who are certified naturally grown and in fact did the actual survey for them since certified organic farmers are accredited to do so. The regulations are well intended but since they allowed us to do the survey without even talking to us or testing us made me suspicious about how easy it was to be certified naturally grown. The standards are far easily to meet than the National Organic Standards and far less supervised.

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    2. Thank you for your replies.
      Here is my thought . The CNG program is a low cost and stress free alternative for small organic farmers. most of whom are idealistic , high energy and honest people. Why not allow it for small farmers up to a certain size ? Even if the CNG program is not perfect it has potential and can be improved over time perhaps with random audits or feedback from the Cornucopia institute.

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  18. I'm not sure if this is true or not but I think organic here also means being fed organic food, not necessarily free range whereas to me, it's more important that the animals are outside as long as weather conditions allow.
    Nice to have you back blogging :)

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    1. Hey there Carlow friend! Yes, I am happy to be back blogging too. I know in the EU (not sure about the Republic) that organic standards are very similar to the US but as I've mentioned the US has done a terrible job of making sure their organic farmers are actually following the standards so I agree with you; the more animals are outside the better. Feeding an animal organic feed and then keeping them on confined lots, in confined cages TOTALLY defeats the purpose. Farmers must do what they feel is best for their family, their farm, their animals and then their customers in that order I believe, and then be honest and transparent about their practices.

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  19. It is hard to be in a society that sneaks under the wire.

    If I get to Illinois, I want to visit your farm. Hope that can happen some day.

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    1. Susan, if you wait to long there may not be many small farms left in Illinois. It becomes harder and harder to just raise a few animals, sell a few products without undue restraints

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  20. I'm so sorry to hear this, but I can't blame you one bit. In fact, more credit to you. And thanks for the warning so I won't be spending good money to buy "organic" in the stores. What a shame that everything has to be corrupted. It shouldn't be surprising with the world we live in, but it always is--and so very sad.

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  21. If I ever go for a certification, this is the only one that meets my standards, with their standards. http://animalwelfareapproved.org/ The USDA certification means little to nothing to me, particularly in regards to meat production.

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  22. Woohoo! (And other enthusiastic noises of approval.)

    Write your own rules. They'll be better.

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  23. I have a small cattle herd so organic certification isn't in the cards for me. The cost would be prohibitive.

    Why is a farmer moving cattle from certified to not certified a problem. Is it because they use the same fields? In Europe I believe treating animals with antibiotics is OK if they are sick. They simply have to be held for a period of elimination. I think it is more humane to treat a sick animal than to have it suffer.

    Is it unusual or unexpected for the farmer not to be able to recite a regulation, if in their environment meeting that regulation is easy (such as time on pasture) and their usual practice before and after organic certification?

    In my area "local" and nonGMO means more than organic certification except that our local direct market dairy raises and maintains their animals in barns. So I buy other milk. And have bought a heifer to milk in the future.

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