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Certified Organic, Explained

Several farmers at the Coppell Farmers Market use sustainable farming methods. The label of Certified Organic can only be used after certification by the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) or other certifying organization. For example, Good Earth Organic Farm is certified organic through the California Certified Organic Farmers. This is a farmers association, as well as a certification body. Pure Land Organic near McKinney is in the process of obtaining certification through TDA.
What’s involved? Any farmer who can claim Certified Organic accreditation has satisfied extensive growing, handling and record keeping requirements. The actual rules, or standards, were established by the USDA National Organic Program.

It’s a long, multi-year process. Crops can be certified as organic only if harvest has occurred at least three years after the most recent use of a prohibited material (chemicals or commercial fertilizer). Producers must submit exacting three-year farm history records showing maps, crop records, production or management plans and all supporting documentation. Annual updates are required thereafter.

Inspection to ensure total use of organic farming methods is required in categories such as Soil and Water Conservation, Irrigation, Crop Rotation and Cover Cropping, Soil Condition, Fertilization, Control of Disease and Weeds, Harvesting, etc. Annual inspections can occur at any time.

Buffer zones or physical barriers such as hedgerows must surround the organically managed farm in order to prevent chemicals used on adjacent land from contacting organic crops through drift or run-off.

All this on top of knowing/learning to farm organically! To be specific, the TDA web site indicates that “organic production is a system of ecological soil management that builds organic matter and humus levels through crop rotations, recycling plant and animal materials, and applying balanced mineral amendments. When necessary, an organic production system uses mechanical, botanical or biological controls to manage pests, weeds and disease.”
(Source: Texas Department of Agriculture)

Shoppers, ask the farmer about growing practices since some are certified organic, some are using organic/sustainable methods but are not certified, and some use conventional agricultural techniques. If the farmer claims that his produce is organic but not certified, it is important that he/she understands what is involved in being organic and can explain which particular practices they use that are organic and which are not.

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