In this installment of Commit to Grow for Earth Day, we take the chance to explain why we choose to maintain our status as certified organic handlers of seeds.
What does it mean to be certified organic?
Organic certification has many nuances, but basically it’s the “certified” part that matters most. Farms or companies or products that are certified to be organic are held to account by the body that provides the certification. The certifier sets rules and minimum standards according to regional, federal, and international laws.
But what does that mean?
Take West Coast Seeds as an example. We are certified by the Pacific Agricultural Certification Society (PACS). At least once a year, we are subjected to an audit by a PACS representative, who, in turn, must be an accredited auditor. The report filed by our auditor is then subjected to several higher levels of scrutiny as part of the verification process.
As with most things bureaucratic, this can all be a bit dry. But it establishes a clear and transparent paper trail between the seeds labeled with our lot numbers and the fields in which they were grown. All levels, from farm to packet, have to be accounted for.
Why would anyone bother?
We see our organic certification as a matter of quality assurance. Many of our customers want to choose certified organic seeds, and we respect that choice. It’s our job to implement and maintain a rigorous quality assurance system that includes safety checks and strict record keeping. If you’re buying something from us labeled Certified Organic, we guarantee that it really is organic, and we have the ability to back up that claim.
Is organic better?
We feel that organic food production is superior to conventional food production because it is sustainable. There is much debate out there on whether one system or the other produces food that is nutritionally superior. For us, this fails to recognize the broader issue of sustainability.
From our perspective, organic growing exploits naturally occurring systems rather than depending on chemicals. Organic growers do not need chemicals to clear our fields of weeds. We don’t use fungicide or pesticide seed treatments when we plant. We don’t depend on chemical fertilizers or foliar sprays. And we don’t treat our fields at the end of the season with further chemicals meant to neutralize all the previous ones. Finally, most organic growers do not depend on monoculture crops, but instead plant with biodiversity in mind.
Why aren’t all the seeds certified organic?
Remember that for the seed to be certified, it must be produced on a farm that is certified. Most farms are faced with the financial reality of turning X-amount of profit per acre or per hundred feet of row. There are crops that will bring in very good money, and there are crops that are less in demand, harder to grow, or that take much longer to mature. So it makes financial sense for most organic farms to grow profitable produce rather than seeds.
Beets are biennial, which means they will not produce seeds until the second year of growth. Investing that amount of space and time does not make sense for most smaller scale growers. However, quinoa is annual, and each plant produces thousands of seeds. A one hundred foot row of quinoa can produce 10 lbs (or more) of seeds in a single season. So some crop seeds, by their nature, are simply easier to produce at less expense.
Many farms choose to grow organically, but don’t feel it’s worth investing the money and energy in certification. Some farms that are certified organic by their regional certifiers, do not meet the standards set by national certifiers. Their produce could be sold locally as certified organic, but not (for instance) outside of the province.
More people than ever before are thinking about organic food production, and devising alternative farming methods to improve the ecosystem. New ideas in farming practices are still emerging all the time. As we count down these Twenty-One Days of Green leading up to Earth Day, we look to a new generation of farmers for big inspiration. And we’re cheered by the commitment so many consumers have made to choose organic when it’s presented as an option.