Here are a few simple questions you can ask your farmer to get a better idea of how your food is being produced – and a few key concepts to listen for when you are having those conversations.
How do you manage soil fertility on your farm? Certified organic farms rely on crop rotation, cover crops, and careful applications of composts and manures to provide fertility to growing crops and to maintain and build soil health.
How do you control weeds and pests on your farm? For weed control, certified organic farms use crop rotation, cover crops, cultivation and mulch. For pests, they use crop rotation, row covers, botanical pesticides and other materials approved by the National Organic Program.
How are animals raised on your farm? Certified organic farmers must feed only certified organic feed to their animals (as pasture, hay and/or grains); they don’t use antibiotics or hormones; and they use only materials approved by the USDA National Organic Program. Animals such as cows and sheep must get a significant portion of their diet from pasture, and all animals must have daily outside access. Because any grains fed must be organic, these animals never eat genetically-modified feeds. If you are buying meat from a farmer who doesn’t feed organic grains, listen for such key words as pasture and grass-fed.
Is the farm certified organic? Any farm that sells more than $5,000 of products in a year that are marketed as organic is legally required to be certified organic. In Maine, MOFGA Certification Services LLC (MCS) is the primary certifying agent. That means that each year MCS verifies that organic farmers use cultural practices that promote good land and natural resource stewardship as well as animal health and welfare. Farms that use the term “organic” but are not certified (i.e., those that sell $5,000 worth of organic goods or less per year) still need to meet the standards of USDA’s National Organic Program.
For more information, please visit www.mofga.org where you will find a searchable directory of certified organic farms and products; organic standards; and information on the positive health and environmental impacts of organic agriculture.