From Land to Ladle
My family and many of my suppliers at Vibrant Farms have been certified organic since the 80s, long before the organic movement gained any traction here in Ontario. So I’ve been involved in this world since as early as I can remember. I’ve seen the purists struggle, I’ve seen the policy and regulation change, I’ve seen the “bandwagon jumpers” and I’ve even seen farmers who aren’t particularly committed to the organic label join certification and barely scrape by being re-certified year after year. The system is definitely not fool-proof, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater JUST yet.
But when it comes to whether — or when — you should spend your family’s hard-earned money on certified organic food, well, sometimes it’s hard to know!
My personal policy is to buy as much as I can directly from the farmer and to visit where the food comes from, ask enough questions so that I can feel assured that I know what is and isn’t going into my food. When buying directly from the farmer It matters not to me whether they are certified because I am doing the “inspection,” so to speak, to satisfy my unique set of standards (we all have our own).
When I can’t buy directly from the farmer, I am surer to look for that “certified organic” label from one of the many certifying bodies. The reason for this is there are so many steps between where I receive the product and where it’s raised, but certification allows me to at least ensure a minimum standard has been met.
I am particularly specific about packaged goods. I buy organic when it is something like a soup or a baked good. There are so many raw ingredients that go into that, I want to ensure that they’ve all come from good sources. With prepared foods, there are more “risk factors” — areas where one could falter in sourcing good ingredients — but with the organic label, I know someone has gone out to each supplier and verified their claims.
Another way to think about it is to consider the “dirty dozen” — a list of foods that are more likely to be pesticide-laden or have chemicals applied to them. Often these foods are simply harder to grow organically and I tend to ensure I buy the organic version when I am faced with a product that contains some of those.
For me, meat — when not purchased directly from the farmer — needs to be organically certified. Even just raised on certified organic land doesn’t cut it; there is so much involved in caring for animals and so many areas of “risk” that could potentially make an animal go very easily from organic to not organic.
But... what the heck is organic, anyway?
What certified organic does mean:
- No pesticides
- No chemical herbicides
- No GMOs (genetically modified organisms)
- No hormones or pharmaceuticals in meats
- That a third-party inspection has been done to verify the claims, and you should be able to trace all organic products back to the very farm on which it was grown
What it doesn't mean:
- Organic meat is still vaccinated, leaving heavy metals in the meat
- It does not mean it’s healthier for you (although it might be, there is no guarantee)
- It does not mean it was humanely killed (again, it might be, but there is no guarantee)
- It does not guarantee increased nutrition (this depends largely on soil management by the farmer, though organic farming does allow you to absorb what nutrition is there more easily)
- It does not mean it’s grass-fed
- It does not mean it’s local
If you’re looking for any of those additional standards, you’ll need to get out there and get to know your farmers!