Organic foods are well-known for their potential health benefits due to a lack of pesticides and hormones used in production. The farming process is, however, is more comprehensive with many environmental impacts.
“In the debate of local vs. organic debate, organic wins hands down in terms of reducing carbon footprint,” said Garth Kahl, interim farm program manager at Oregon Tilth.
This October the Oregon Department of Agriculture was also accredited to certify organic farms in the state. Organic farming’s restrictive nature allows for beneficial insects, like ladybugs, to thrive in the environment along with ensuring fertile soil, and cleaner air.
Whether growing crops or producing meat or dairy there are numerous regulations and time restrictions placed on organic farms in order to receive certification.
“We require a minimum of three years of farming prior to selling the crop as organic,” Kahl said. “Organic agriculture as it is defined basically allows for a limited number of fertilizers and inputs.”
Biological pest control are deployed instead on organic farms.
“Copper is one of them, sulfur is another,” Kahl said. “These are pesticides that have been used for thousands of years, most others are prohibited.”
While the process is often arduous, these farmers choose organic because they feel the benefits are worth the extra work.
“We think it’s the best system,” Laurie Carlson, co-owner of Fairview Farms of Dallas with her husband Terry.
Fairview Farms produces cheese and sells pork as well as eggs from their free range chickens.
“We got our dairy license in April and started selling 60 days later,” Carlson said.
Though not yet certified organic they are nearing the end of their turnover process.
“We’re looking to be certified in the next year,” Carlson said. “We do follow completely the standards, but there’s a year of transition.”
The Carlson have 38 milk goats roaming on their acreage. One of the stipulations of organic dairy farming is that they must have new animals or ones that come from a certified organic farm.
“The dairy rules are very strict,” Carlson said. “We’ve had to raise up our own. There’s only one other dairy farm like ours in the state that I’m aware of.”
Similar standards are applied in the case of dairy cow and cattle raised for beef.
“Dairy cows have to be on organic feed and pasture for a year, and cattle must have been on the same program from the last third of gestation,” Kahl said.
Restrictions are also placed on what health aids can be used on farm animals.
“There has to be no medications in the feed,” Carlson said.
No antibiotics are allowed and other products have to be checked.
“Also, one really important step is vaccination,” Carlson said. “If we can prevent an animal from getting sick, then they won’t need any antibiotics.”
Much like their homosapien counterparts, many animals ingest supplements for optimum health.
“If these supplements are mixed with corn cobs, those materials have to be certified organic,” Kahl said.
In addition to providing livestock with plenty of space and adequate bedding, their byproducts, like manure, provide usable fertilizers for crops.
Crop rotation is another important component of organic farming and one that helps keep the soil fertile.
“Rotations in annual crops can’t plant potatoes or corn year after year after year,” Kahl said.
It’s one of the many aspects of field history that are required of farmers who submit an application for organic certification.
“It’s required that they have field history for the last five years, a map of the farm, and what materials they are using,” Kahl said.
Inspectors are then brought in the picture. They visit the applicants farms to essentially verify that what was submitted is accurate.
“They walk the fields, look in the barn to make sure are actually on hand, sprayers being used with the materials they say they’re using,” Kahl.
Though some farmers argue that the certification process costs too much money, certification is required by the federal government for those who have sales of $5,000 or more annually.
“For a lot of growers, record keeping is the biggest hurdles,” Kahl said.
Certification through Oregon Tilth for a new grower costs $475, but the state pays up to 70 percent of the fee.
“Those who say cost is prohibitive, they don’t want to bother keeping records.,” Kahl said. “One of my friends who trains our inspectors put it best when he said, ‘What you do in the fields makes you organic, what you do in your office makes you certified.’”