Farm and Food Session 5

Our last session was a panel on Certified Organic or Not Certified? How do Farmers and Consumers Make the Choice? The panel was…

Robert Hutchins Rehoboth Ranch
Bill McCranie Chickamaw Farms
Leslie Mckinnon Independent Consultant
Dave Engel Oregon Tilth

Robert Hutchins started off talking about why he has not certified his farm as organic. He sells his grass-fed meats direct to the consumer and hasn’t seen a need for certification. He has used organic practices, feeds and seeds for years. He mentioned that he buys seed from someone who knows, but the seed is not certified organic. Leslie Mckinnon in her response raised the issue of Hutchins’ use of the word organic to describe what he does on his farm. There was some heated, but good, exchange. Without giving a play by play, let me try to tease out some of the issues.

Dave Engel later said that the word organic is now a regulated word. The original need to create organic standards, as Dave, pointed out, was to create some definition so that consumers could know that a product met certain criteria. The problem arises primarily when we don’t buy food face to face with someone. So, I recognize the need for regulation of the agribusiness industry. The problem is when the government claims to own the word organic and regulate its meaning. There were suggestions that you could say you used organic practices without claiming to be certified organic. I find that to be a reasonable idea, but it’s a gray area legally and could become problematic.

This seems like an important and foundational question to think about, but one that shouldn’t distract us from our common goals in the “organic” sustainable food movement.