I know, I know. If I truly loved my family I would only buy and serve organic food. At least that’s what magazines and social media tell us…and the hipsters who randomly get interviewed on the street who couldn’t tell you what the word ‘organic’ even means. Before you throw the rotten, non-organic tomatoes, let me share with you why I don’t always buy organic food.
A little bit of back story…
5 Reasons Our Small Farm Did Not Become Certified Organic
In 1999 our small family dairy farm looked into becoming certified organic. Were we in for an eye-opener!
1. Three Year Wait
First of all, the process would take three years because that’s how long the land had to not have any conventional chemical fertilizers applied.
Fine, we could understand the three year wait. It made sense. But dolling out tons of money over three years without a ‘premium’ labeled product to sell was going to be tough.
Then there was the cost. Oh, the cost! Filing fees. Inspection fees. Annual fees and more. And, of course, the higher cost for any feed needing to be purchased. All these costs were just not feasible for our small dairy farm trying to niche down to keep our head afloat and provide quality food to our customers.
“Typically, there is an application fee, annual renewal fee, assessment on annual production or sales, and inspection fees.” ~USDA
Another reason for choosing to not get certified organic was the paperwork. The mountains of paperwork for cows and feed purchased. Paperwork trails on any feed brought in from outside the farm had to have a novel in itself.
Our dairy farm was in a remote part of Wisconsin, not in farming country and far away from anyone who knew what ‘organic’ was. In a time before the internet, there was no telling how we would locate acceptable minerals, medicine, feed, weed control, etc for our farm.
Plus, there was no creamery willing to travel that far to our little farm and pick up our milk. That meant it was completely up to us to market our own product directly to the customers in our dinky town.
5. Higher Standards
After reading through all the requirements for becoming certified organic, we realized that much of our practices were to a much higher standard than the USDA’s. Our grazing and crop growing was beyond organic requirements.
And our salable meats had no ‘organic approved’ additives or flavor enhancers. Just real food ingredients.
Why I Don’t Always Buy Organic Food
So from a young age I had a different view of everything labeled ‘certified organic.’ Because of our products and food we offered to our customers, I realized that a lot of times it’s better to buy from John Doe up the road who isn’t certified but who cares about his crops and animals.
This has shaped my food shopping and sourcing habits for my own little family today and explains why I don’t always buy organic food.
1. We raise much of our own food. I garden. This provides ample potatoes, beans, pickles, corn, squash, carrots, red beets, basil, dill and tomatoes for our family for a year. During the growing months it provides our lettuce, radishes and fresh herbs, as well.
We get our beef from old dairy cows that have to be put down.
All our milk comes from our farm. And we drink a lot of milk! I also make quark, kefir and yogurt from our milk.
No, these foods aren’t organic, but I know where they come from. I know how the animals are treated and what they are fed. I know and trust my producer.
2. We buy chickens from the neighbor. No, our neighbor is not certified organic. But his chickens feed on bugs and garden scraps until butcher day. We can support his business and get quality meat at the same time!
3. We buy eggs from our egg lady. Yep, we have our own egg lady. We pick them up from her house every Sunday. The chickens run around outside eating bugs and soaking up the sunshine. And the supplemental feed is not organic or GMO free or anything fancy. Just feed.
4. I pick berries at a non-organic patch. Even though I haven’t gone to a patch for berry picking in a couple years, my favorite is one we went to many times in my teens. Nope, he’s not organic. He says that we couldn’t afford his berries if he was certified. Instead, he compromises. He only applies chemicals before any flowers appear.
This is why it’s important to talk with and know your producer. You can find out the how and why behind his business.
Read More: Fresh Strawberry Pie
5. I buy lettuce from our neighbor. Yep, fresh lettuce year round in Wisconsin! Our neighbors have a little hydroponic set up for growing lettuce and pea shoots. It’s not organic, but it hasn’t been shipped thousands of miles and it’s delicious in the dead of winter!
6. Organic doesn’t mean ‘chemical free.’ Growing hundreds of acres of organic produce still requires weed, pest and fungus control. Often these are controlled by substances found in nature. But large, concentrated amounts of these natural components can still cause upset in our bodies and soils.
7. Organic doesn’t mean small-scale. One thing conventional farmers get berated for is mono cropping thousands of acres. That happens in the organic world, too!
Read More: Healthy Convenience Foods to Keep on Hand
8. Understand the most heavily sprayed time of the crop. Yep, some produce gets heavy chemicals at harvest so there’s no time for it to dilute. I try to not buy that produce or to purchase it organic.
Take potatoes for instance: the vines are sprayed to be killed off to ready the potatoes for harvest. Then in the warehouses, the potatoes themselves are sprayed with sprouting inhibitors. (Source)
In my brain, this is quite different from corn that was sprayed for weeds 60 days before harvest.
In the end, I’d rather buy produce and meat from someone up the road who has to spray once for weeds or deworm their animals than buy certified organic apples shipped in from New Zealand that have been sitting in warehouses for five weeks.
What Foods I Do Buy Organic
Really, I don’t buy that much produce from the store. My husband doesn’t like many vegetables so what I do buy is usually for me and our son.
Our little garden keeps us stocked for the year with our favorite vegetables: green beans, potatoes, carrots, beets, corn, pickles, tomatoes for sauce and squash.
Our main fruit is applesauce that I make and can from our trees.
So when I get a hankering for some vegetables or fruit from the store, I usually buy organic if it is on the Dirty Dozen list.
In reality, we live in a small town so my organic selection is very limited.
I’m not saying that ‘certified organic’ food is bad. What I am saying is that as an industry, it has a dark side, too. And I have to remind myself of that when I get carried away with worry about food choices for my family.
So don’t compare yourself to others who can afford everything organic or have access to everything organic. Our bodies are created beautifully to adapt and heal. Let’s feed them and nourish them the best we can.
And now you know why I don’t always buy organic food!