Standing with Our Organic Farmers

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(This piece was originally published in a newsletter from Whole Earth Center, Princeton, NJ)

A recent report on organic food and beverage shoppers suggests that there has been a growing distrust and discounting of organic certification over the past few years. So, we would like to take a moment to voice our support for our certified organic farmers and to acknowledge their significant achievements.

Organic farmers have been on the forefront of the remarkable changes that have taken place in agriculture during the 45 years that Whole Earth has been in business. In that time, we have been a witness to the great improvement in quality that now puts organic produce on par with—and, quite often, above—the quality of conventionally grown produce. Our longevity and success is built on the consistent support that our customers have given to organic farmers in our state, region, and beyond.

The tremendous advances in organics that took place over the past 45 years didn't originate in USDA research programs and weren't funded by US taxpayers. They came through farmer-to-farmer conversations. They were fostered at farm tours and conferences organized by organic farming organizations such as our own New Jersey chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA-NJ). They happened because organic farmers took risks, educated themselves, and freely shared their knowledge about ways to farm in greater harmony with the earth. These organic farmers proved the naysayers wrong and showed that food can be produced without the use of persistent toxins and synthetic fertilizers.

In the 1990s, it was recognized that standardizing the definition of organic and policing the use of that term would help to ensure that there is integrity and honesty in the organic marketplace. Out of that belief—and after much national debate about the details—our USDA Certified Organic label was born.

We recognize that there are legitimate concerns about misrepresentation in the marketplace and that there is a need to be constantly vigilant about how the USDA upholds its responsibility to safeguard the integrity of the organic label. We understand why farmers who sell directly to the public may choose to forgo organic certification. And we know that there are still many improvements to come in the way that organics are practiced on the farm and in the marketplace.

However, we believe that the “sustainable,” “eco-,” “earth-friendly,” and “beyond-organic” claims that we often see today have traction in the marketplace ONLY because the labor and passion of our organic farmers has created greater consumer awareness and demand for better farming practices. Please, let us not now undo or dishonor all of that hard work and goodwill by proclaiming that the organic label has little or no merit.

As for us, Whole Earth is sticking with our commitment to stock only organic produce. Every day, our farmers prove that it is possible to grow an enormous range of produce items organically. We recognize—and support—that they take the time, trouble, and expense of getting organic certification because it is the most reliable verification in the marketplace that a farmer’s words and deeds are aligned.

Posted 8/7/2015