When I was a fledgling organic foodie in my early days at Community Foods in Santa Cruz, I didn’t know that much about organic. I simply knew it was cleaner for the waters, helped to build soil fertility and did not use toxic chemicals. I could recite the number of the California organic product code but that was about all I knew about regulations. To this day I am still learning about the intricacies of organic food and agriculture. For those of you who buy, sell, grow, eat or simply ENJOY organic food there is now a place you can get all the information you need on organics.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has acknowledged that organic is a vital driver in agriculture. The USDA is displaying this commitment on its new centralized resource website, USDA.gov. If you go to the main page you won’t automatically see organics listed under “Popular Topics” because enough people don’t know it’s even there! Well, by golly, I think this has to change. For the time being you have to search in the upper right hand search box for organic. Once you navigate to the Organic One Stop Shop, you will discover a plethora of amazing information on organic agriculture to serve your every organic need.
The most basic is WHAT IS ORGANIC? You can send your friends and family here to learn that organic agriculture produces products using methods that preserve the environment and avoid most synthetic materials, such as pesticides and antibiotics. You can also tell them the USDA organic standards determine how farmers grow crops and raise livestock and which materials they may use. It’s a pretty basic list of goodies that says organic farms and processors must:
- Preserve natural resources and biodiversity
- Support animal health and welfare
- Provide access to the outdoors so that animals can exercise their natural behaviors
- Only use approved materials
- Not use genetically modified ingredients
- Receive annual onsite inspections
- Separate organic food from non-organic food
Now that is a list worth celebrating and talking about!
The website has an easy menu on the right which highlights the benefits of organic agriculture. Organic farmers receive premium prices and access to special international markets and can receive technical assistance. Producers can also explore whether organic is an option for them.
For the neophytes among us you can explore the National Organic Program Fact Sheet. This is an excellent quick resource that summarizes the policies and makes them easier to understand. You can access the NOP’s Blog, which comments on the latest news at the USDA. In fact, it’s easy to get lost in the links. Make sure you also follow Miles McEvoy’s latest on USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) recently published fact sheets that explain the basics of importing and exporting organic products to assist in accessing new markets. If only I had that resource so easily at my fingertips when I was starting to import organic bananas!
The list of resources for farmers and handlers is in a tidy menu under programs and services. If you have questions on the regulations, you can view the organic standards, learn how to become certified organic, buy crop insurance or just contact your local USDA field office. If you are an organic farmer or know one, let them know this recourse is there for them!
If you are in the organic business or simply enjoy tasty organic food and sometimes have questions, this is your place to shop for answers. I give huge credit to the USDA for their continued commitment to organic. Now it’s your turn to show your commitment by accessing this information. It’s as easy as a few clicks. Enjoy the education!