What Does It Mean to "Grow Organically?"

organic farm vegetables

What does "organic" mean for farmers and gardeners?

Ask a handful of people what 'organic' means and you will receive an array of answers. Definitions and practices of organic agriculture will differ depending upon whether you are talking to a farmer, gardener or organic certifier. The basis of organic agriculture is to farm/garden in rhythm with nature's laws in a sustainable manner that provides a healthy eco system for all beings involved. How this philosophy is played out in practice varies greatly from individual to individual, organization to organization.

These principles usually include using cover crops, reducing off-farm inputs, maintaining and enhancing ecological harmony and refraining from using chemical fertilizers and chemical pest controls. And, since the implementation of the National Organic Program (NOP) under the USDA, "organic" has become a legal term as defined by the federal government, so only if certified under the NOP may the term "certified organic" be used.

NOP Regulations for Organic Producers

NOP regulations define what products and processes are allowed under certified production. NOP organic certifiers verify that a grower is complying with the program. Historically, before NOP, independent organic certification organizations existed to ensure that farmers maintained certain basic organic principles in their farming practices. Consumers relied on these organizations to determine which producers were applying organic principles. While these basic principles were usually consistent among most organic certifying agencies, interpretation of these standards could differ, so the goal of NOP was to establish minimum standards for certified organic so that consumers could expect consistency throughout the marketplace.

When deciding on what products to use in your garden to grow plants for your own use or consumption, you have a bit of latitude in deciding what products you may use and still consider your garden organically grown. While the National Organic Program (NOP) defines product acceptability for certified organic growing, you may decide for yourself what you consider to be organic. To provide some guidance, we have noted on our website what products are listed by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) or California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) as being acceptable for use by certified organic growers.

Buying Organic Products

Also, we indicate what products may be considered to be acceptable under NOP according to the manufacturer. In general, and to the best of our knowledge, most of the products we sell are appropriate for sustainable agriculture. However, many products have never been submitted for review of their organic status. As we will never know the exact formulation of those products, we can never be sure that such products are truly 'bona fide' organic. Use your own best judgement, based on your approach to organic gardening, and information available about specific products, when considering the use of any of our products.

For more on organic certification, see our recent blog post here.

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