Reading the Farms & Fields Menu, you may read more words than you completely understand. One such word, “organic” can have many different meanings in different contexts–it’s no wonder some of us get confused. In fact, a Harris Interactive poll from 2007 revealed the 36% of adults 18 and over surveyed weren’t sure if the usual extra expense of organics were worth it or if the food was better. Let’s break it down to make it a little easier to understand.
Organic at F&F?
At F&F, when we use the term “Organic,” by itself, we mean “USDA Certified Organic,” which is a packaged, third-party certified set of transparent standards approved by the federal government and that requires inspection for labeling. One cannot label their food, “USDA Organic” without being inspected and passing that inspection under penalty of law. Sometimes folks call their produce “organically grown,” which can mean that they adhere to the standards but aren’t checked by an official organization. Growers like this usually operate on a small level and use trust with their neighbors as their accountability measure. The closer to home the farmer, the easier it is to verify their real growing practices (i.e. passing by the farm, being their neighbor). Since not everyone lives next door to their farmer or buys from next door, third party accountability systems like USDA Organic certification exist. You’ll see F&F using the Organic label for foods that we couldn’t get as close to home that we know were grown with the same type of practices.
USDA Organic fruits, vegetables, and grains
The organic beets sometimes served at F&F would fit into this category. These items, if labeled USDA Organic, were grown without the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), chemical pesticides (some naturally-based ones may be used), sludge, ionizing radiation, or synthetic fertilizers (a.k.a chemical fertilizers made to mimic naturally made ones). Put more positively, Organic produce can be grown with things such as rich black compost, heirloom seeds, more human labor (more jobs), and permaculture practices. Growing produce like the F&F beet with more natural methods enhances soil fertility and prevents erosion without the use of chemicals.
USDA Certified Organic Meats
With organic meats, the standards ensure that what’s fed to the animals you have for dinner is USDA Certified Organic. As many animals in modern agriculture are fed routine antibiotics and/or growth hormone, USDA Organic meat prohibits this practice with certification. In addition, animal welfare is tied into the Organic standard to a certain extent. The animals must have been outside 120 days out of the year with about a third of their food intake from pasture during grazing season, for example. USDA Organic labeling on meats does not go as far as, say, Certified Humane does (which F&F touts at times), but it is unique in that it offers welfare standards along with the chemical ones.
Under USDA Organic labeling, a food can be called “Organic” if 95% or more of the ingredients that go into it are certified Organic. This title changes to “made with Organic Ingredients” if 70% or more of the ingredients are Organic, and “Less than 70% Organic Ingredients,” respectively.
Hopefully this helps clear up some of the “organic” confusion in regards to food, because the chemistry class is already bad enough. Keep checking the blog for future “F&F Definitions” to give you a better understanding of the delicious sustainable fare at Farms & Fields Project in Owens Food Court.