A couple of years ago I was having a conversation with MOM’s Organic Market’s grocery director about some products we don’t carry. She said something that caught my attention—that there’s a faction within the organic industry that considers itself “too cool to be organic.” A growing number of farmers and artisan producers feel like their products are “beyond organic,” and that going through the process of third-party organic certification is a wasted effort.
Kathleen Merrigan, one of the organic farming industry’s most stalwart supporters, retired May 3. As she departed, she wrote in the National Organic Program’s most recent newsletter about her biggest fear for the future of organics:
“I could list out many challenges and opportunities facing organic agriculture, but as I head out the door, I want you to know the one issue that weighs heavily on my mind,” she wrote. “I meet too many young people who think organic status is insufficient or not relevant to them. They claim to be ‘beyond organic,’ ‘natural,’ better than organic, ‘authentic.’
“They worry about the paperwork, fees, and being regulated by government. We must change this trend. I wish I had an hour to spend with each one of these budding farmers to explain the history of the organic farming movement and why it is important to act collectively. What we have done together is bigger than any one person or organization. What we have done together has mattered.”
I can relate to these young farmers and producers. As the owner of MOM’s, I’ve come across some regulations over the years that are rather ridiculous, seemingly created by bureaucrats who make a living out of overthinking everything. This results in a plethora of minutiae-based regulations that cater to the lowest common denominator.
However, I realize that no set of regulations is going to be perfect. Some people and organizations will find fault with the organic certification process and standards, so they choose to throw the baby out with the bath water by not participating. Even worse, some say the organic standards aren’t good enough, so they form a circular firing squad and actively attack the entire certification process.
For the organic movement to continue to grow, we are going to have to realize that perfect is the enemy of good, that not everyone can be pleased. To be effective, we need to adhere to a common set of less-than-perfect standards. Those who farm organically but opt out of the certification process are making it easier on themselves, but they are hurting our movement… the same movement that is able to exist because of these uniform standards and certification processes.
When shopping at farmers markets, roadside stands, or buying local or artisan products, please consider the value and power of collective action; give priority to those who go through the organic certification process. They are selflessly investing in our industry.