Certifiable at the Market

By Kim Angeli

What does "Certified Organic" mean?
by Kim Angeli
One great thing about shopping at a farmers market is the wide variety of organic foods usually available. Not only can you purchase organic foods, but you can talk to the growers about their processes and try new techniques in your own garden. The Downtown Farmers Market has nine certified-organic growers and one certified-organic rancher plus two growers currently in the certification process, and many more who use organic practices without obtaining the official certification.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is reponsible for managing the National Organic Program, implemented in October 2002. It has developed standards that must be met by anyone using the "organic" label in the United States. (www.eco-labels.org). Organic farming avoids the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers; bans the use of animal by-products, antibiotics and sewage sludge; and requires other practices. The Utah Department of Agriculture has been certifying products as organic since 2001 and is accredited as an organic certifier by the USDA.

The certification process involves diligent recordkeeping, farm and soil inspections, certification fees, and compliance responsibilities. Some farms that follow organic growing practices choose not to obtain the official certification. These growers can legally use words such as pesticide-free or natural. (A prime example of this at our market would be Chad's Produce.) When shopping at the Downtown Farmers Market, it is best to ask the grower or farm staff about their growing practices.

One thing that we in the Downtown Alliance office have learned is that it is difficult to grow fruit without pesticides in Utah. Every apple on my trees in the Marmalade District is crawling with worms, and Andrew's cherry tree in Sugar House moves on its own because of the worms. Many fruit growers set traps in the trees to control and monitor the bug situation. Pesticides will be avoided unless the bug problem becomes serious. If an entire year's crop is lost to bugs, a farm business could be devastated.

There are three points to this:

1) Organic farming takes a lot of work, creativity and risk on the part of the grower, which is why shoppers will pay a bit more.

2) Many growers follow organic practices without obtaining certification; talk to the growers.

3) Always wash fruits and vegetables before you eat them, even if they are certified-organic.

Kim is the special events director at the Downtown Alliance, which organizes the weekly farmers market at Pioneer Park in downtown Salt Lake City

Certified-Organic Vendors at the Downtown Farmers Market:
• Borski Organic Farms-vegetables, garlic, flowers
• Clifford Family Farms-produce, eggs
• Zoe's Garden-fruits, vegetables, greens
• Sunbridge Growers-microgreens, wheatgrass, sprouts
• East Farms-produce
• BTBW-garlic braids
• Real Salt-variety of natural sea salts
• Taylor-Made Beef-beef and pork
• Rott'n Apple Worm Farm-worm tea and castings for gardens

This article was originally published on July 30, 2007.