Q&A

DEAR NEW FARM:
How do I find an organic certifier in my area (South Carolina)? I have organically raised animals and vegetables.

Thanks,
Joanne

 

DEAR COURTNEY:
You can begin by contacting our friends at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) www.carolinafarmstewards.org. (For would-be organic farmers elsewhere, local and regional sustainable farming groups exist across the United States to help you get started.) There you will find tremendous links for producers, including information on how to pick a certifier. CFSA will also be able to match you up with seasoned organic farmers in your region, an invaluable mentoring tool when it comes to understanding all the nuances of compliance with the federal Organic Rule. Contact executive director Tony Kleese at ed@carolinafarmstewards.org; (919) 542-2402. Tony is also involved with training farmers interested in becoming certified, and he is eager to help.

The funny thing about the certification process is that certifiers aren’t necessarily regionally based. For instance, Oregon Tilth, one of the oldest and most respected certifying agents in the country, operates across the United States and even internationally. You can find a list of all USDA-accredited certifying agents on the National Organic Program website at www.ams.usda.gov/nop/CertifyingAgents/Accredited.html. But it is limiting in that it only provides you with home-base information and does not offer any details on coverage area or any other specifics about services. And all certifiers are not alike (though they are supposed to apply the standards and requirements set forth in the federal Organic Rule equally). What varies widely is their field of expertise, the fees they charge, their level of service, and their commitment to organics.

That’s why The New Farm has partnered up with the Organic Farming Research Foundation to create a certifier directory that offers such practical and useful detail. We’ve queried all the certifiers and are in the process of organizing and editing the data so it will be easy to use. Look for a roll-out of this exciting new project later this summer.

If you are really feeling the need to get up to speed, you might consider hiring an organic consultant (ask your local support group—in your case, CFSA—for a recommendation). And if you are a gluten for punishment, you can try wading through the rule yourself, published in the Federal Register (www.ams.usda.gov/nop/NOP/standards.html). (It might not help you get certified, but it might make you certifiable.)

Good luck, Joanne. Please keep us apprised of your progress.

NF

 

 

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