Organic farming has become one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture. The farmers at the Santa Monica Farmers Markets produce a great variety of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and animal bi-products employing an even wider variety of growing practices. All farmers at the SMFMs are required to fill out a “growing practices information” form disclosing the methods used for weed and pest control, soil fertility, and appearance.
Two of the more frequently asked questions we receive at the Santa Monica Farmers Markets (SMFMs) are, “what is organic” and “who grows organically?” This is a simple question with a complex answer.
Here are some definitions which might be helpful:
In order to use the term "organic," growers must be certified by an independent third party or certifying agency that verifies the growing practices of the farmer and substantiates compliance with National Organic Program Regulations. Certification includes inspections of farm fields and processing facilities, detailed record keeping including the types and origins of fertilizers and seeds, and periodic testing of soil and water. Growers in California, who are certified, must also register annually with the state in order to use the term “organic.” Organic growers are required to have a copy of their Organic Certification with them at the market.
Many Santa Monica Farmers Market farmers utilize "organic practices” but may have decided not to become certified. Also, they may have previously been certified and decided to decertify. While many of their practices are indeed "organic," the lack of third-party oversight does not guarantee that their methods are truly “organic.” While these growers cannot advertise their produce as “organic,” they may say that they do not use synthetic pesticides or herbicides and can mention that they use “organic fertilizer.”
Labels such as “pesticide free” and “no spray” do not ensure that your food is organic. “Pesticide free” usually means the edible parts of a crop have not been sprayed with harmful chemicals. However, synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, and fungicides may have been used to grow the food. Furthermore, there are no federal standards for “natural," "local,” or “sustainable." These products may include toxic pesticides, genetically modified organisms, or synthetic substances that are prohibited in organic production.
At the Santa Monica Farmers Markets, we do not use these terms as they can be misleading. For a list of soil amendments, pest control, or product enhancements, please view the farmer profiles. Each farmer is required to disclose their growing practices.
Biodynamic agriculture is a method of organic farming that treats farms as unified and individual organisms and emphasizes the balance of a holistic development and interrelationship of the soil, plants, and animals as a self-nourishing system without external inputs insofar as this is possible given the loss of nutrients due to the export of food. As in other forms of organic agriculture, artificial fertilizers, toxic pesticides, and herbicides are strictly avoided (Wikipedia).
Some helpful links
National Sustainable Agricultural Information Service
USDA Agricultural Marketing Service
Organic Foods Production Act of 1990