Why aren't we Certified Organic?
🌱 You might have realised that at Living Soil Garden, despite being fully guided by regenerative principles, which have as their basis organic standards, we are not officially certified organic. When customers ask whether we are organic, we sometimes reply: even better - come and have a look for yourself this Friday!
But why did we decide not to get certified? This is actually a big topic in growers communities, with lots of different views, most of the time linked to the importance of being inspected by a reliable institution, but also to the cost and difficulties of getting certified. Our take on this issue is quite different, so I thought we should share with you the rationale for our choice.
🔍 Don't delegate, research!
It seems to us that organic certification reinforces an idea of society where food standards are managed, imposed, understood on a high, technical, political level. On the contrary, we believe that food understanding and involvement should not be delegated.
In our view, veg should come from around the corner. Having a market garden in every neighbourhood would mean there's no need to ask a massive bureaucratic body to check if you're happy with how the food is grown. You can go visit, give a hand, ask questions.
We have an open gate policy; people really love to sneak in at any time and have a look at what's going on; we sell on site - there's families and kids around the garden every Friday, asking questions and "inspecting" every inch of the garden.
One could argue that not everybody is trained to understand what's good practice and what isn't. But this should be part of our education. Delegating reinforces the idea that these are technical matters and that being able to recognise the soil association logo on a product is enough - without really having read the standards and knowing what it means. I've done it, we have all done it. Without logo, I am forced to research the people, the farm, their techniques, find out if they are good or not. No logo, no delegating, no excuse not to know.
🧑🏻🤝🧑🏾 Do we need Local or Global accountability?
Growers advocating for the need to get certified often refer to the importance of having global (or national) accountability, which makes sense in the context of global (or national) markets. This means averaging over large diversity, loosing detail, effectively marginalising minority positions, etc. Ultimately, it means replacing the people who grow food with a label or an adjective. The customer sees the product, and not what’s behind it, which is reduced by the shorthand “Organic”.
We should not be afraid to challenge the preconception that standards and accountability should be delegated to a body that operates on a large scale.
Our societies are built around this exercise: representation, generalisation and standardisation. This tendency is partly a consequence of aggregation on a large scale, urbanisation and globalisation. I think we can (and, if we agree with above, should) challenge this tendency, regardless of our role in society. Food production is part of this.
If I'm going to sell locally, my standards should be relevant to that local context and mean something to local people (both customers and neighbours). I would like them to buy from me because they've come to meet me and see what I do, not because I sign in to something they've heard of. Is it unrealistic? Perhaps, it depends on the meaning of the word. It’s difficult to achieve on a large scale, but that’s not a scale I operate on. Anything is difficult to achieve on a large scale without power, resources or large aggregation of individuals. I, personally, am not interested in operating on that scale. Not all, but a lot of change is achieved, in my view, one person at a time, one neighbourhood at at time.
💭 Is this unrealistic?
Perhaps, it depends on the meaning of the word. It’s difficult to achieve on a large scale, but that’s not a scale I operate on. Anything is difficult to achieve on a large scale without power, resources or large aggregation of individuals. I, personally, am not interested in operating on that scale. Not all, but a lot of change is achieved, in my view, one person at a time, one neighbourhood at at time.
Some will say that this customer-to-producer relationship is particularly difficult in an urban context, where it would be nearly impossible for all customers to know the farmer personally. Well, for one, very different contexts should be recognised as such in the certification process.
🚜🥬 Differences are important!
Not only urban and rural situations have different needs and possibilities, but also different organic farmers have very different degrees of sustainability and regenerative impact. Having a hypothetical small 1/4 acre market garden with hand tools, no tillage, etc. in the same category as a large 100 acre farm with 3 tractors and a nation-wide distribution scale would not be particularly useful to me as a customer.
Although current organic standards are nicely ambitious, in reality what gets certified is very diverse and at the end it all falls in the same category. For instance: monoculture and tillage get certified. In no way a small, no-dig operation comes across as more sustainable than a large hundred-acres farm with 3 organic crops and tons of organic pesticides, fossil fuelled machinery and tillage. At the customer's end, produce coming from those two different realities are made equivalent by the soil association logo. We don't feel okay condoning this and being put in the same basket with those operations.
💡 We need Radical change
Finally, our role as food producers is not only to work within our context (in this case, say - urbanisation, globalisation) but to challenge it with our work, try and contribute in the direction we want. Most small-scale organic growers are already doing it: by selling direct as much as they can, by striving to influence policy ethically, by supporting each other in incredibly selfless ways. We should not be afraid of doing it even more radically, by questioning this “averaging” and standardisation process. By expecting that people do research and choose what they buy, rather than always rely on short-hands. By not working within the realm of “realistic”, but pushing into that of “worth trying”.