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.