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Organic education efforts continue as farmers markets grow

Nathan Phelps, Press-Gazette Media,

photo via onmilwaukee.com

photo via onmilwaukee.com

With the number of farmers markets growing around the region and across the country, agricultural officials continue working to educate producers and consumers about organic certification and growing practices.

Organic growers are split into two camps under federal rules. Certified organic growers must undergo an annual inspection of organic farm plans and practices by a certifying agency. These growers can use the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s certified organic label on products.

The other camp includes growers who sell less than $5,000 a year in products. They also can use the term organic in marketing products but don’t have to go through the certification process. Those vendors are expected to follow the same practices as certified growers.

“They can market it as organic; say it’s organic; but without being certified, they can’t use the seal.” said Sam Jones-Ellard, representative of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

The USDA certification label is a signal to consumers that growers are following federally approved organic production methods, Jones-Ellard said.

“Of course farmers’ markets present a unique situation since a lot of those operations are going to be exempt,” he said.

“One of the best things to do is to talk to the farmer, talk the vendor. Get to know them. Ask them questions about their operation and production methods. Start a conversation and see what you can find out about the farmer.”

Required organic practices include not using, and protecting against, genetically modified organisms. It also means using fertilizer, pest and weed control management products approved for organic use; using organic seeds, unless organic seeds were not commercially available; and avoiding seeds treated with synthetic fungicides or insecticides.

Land must also be free of prohibited substances for three years to meet organic guidelines.

Daniel Barnard of Healthy Ridge Farm in Door County grows certified produce and vegetables, and sells them at a Green Bay farmers market.

“The biggest difference is the record keeping,” he said about being a certified grower. “There’s a cost, whether it’s time or money, to keep all the records.”

Barnard said growing organically includes additional time spent hand-weeding crops like carrots and strawberries, and keeping up to date on federal regulations.

“Your organic inspector really helps you out with (complying with changing regulations),” he said. “They changed the requirements on compost. How would you know that if you’re not actually certified?”

Growing markets

Nationwide, farmers markets have been growing in recent years, with nearly 8,300 listed in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Farmers Market Directory. That’s a 76 percent increase in markets since 2008, according to the agency.

Read the full story via Organic education efforts continue as farmers markets grow.

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