When you give a loved one a bouquet of flowers, do you want that gift to have a happy story behind it or a sad one?
That’s a question posed by Marc Kessler, owner of California Organic Flowers, whose Chico, CA-based business grows USDA-certified organic flowers, arranges them into bouquets and mails them to customers all over the country.
“If the flowers are grown in greenhouses that are fumigated with chemicals and they’re grown in South American countries where the labor practices are terrible and people are suffering from those chemicals … and they’re shipped in a 747 from some faraway country to Miami, and from Miami to wherever, and (then) to your house, it’s not a very nice story,” Kessler said.
Trailblazing Organic Farm in Maryland, One Straw Farm, Puts Soil and Overall Health of Farm Ahead of Organic CertificationJanuary 20, 2012 | Kelly Hatton
In 1985, the word “organic” had yet to penetrate consumer consciousness. Joan Norman of One Straw Farm remembers fighting misconceptions of the word’s meaning when using it to classify the produce she and her husband, Drew, were growing on their 82-acre farm in Maryland. “In the beginning, if we said ‘organic’ people thought we were growing marijuana, or they thought they had to be vegetarian to eat our produce,” she said.
That changed in 1989. After a report that Alar, a chemical commonly sprayed on apples and other fruit crops, could increase cancer risk, public outcry led schools to stop serving apple juice and stores to take apple products off the shelves. “Everyone was asking for organic apples. Of course we didn’t have any,” Joan said. But One Straw Farm did have an abundance of other chemical-free food, and a growing base of customers seeking organic produce.
As in the rest of the country, organic farming driven by market demand has caught on in North Dakota, and the federal government and state branch of the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) are working to ensure that its growth continues in the state. NRCS is offering technical and financial assistance to ND farmers implementing organic agriculture and conservation practices on their lands as part of the USDA-Agricultural Marketing Service’s National Organic Program (NOP).
Through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), NRCS North Dakota can provide technical assistance and as much as $20,000 per year ($80,000 over a six-year period) to certified organic producers, those who are making the transition to organic farming, and producers who qualify as exempt, the federal government service announced last month. Farmers that sell organic agricultural products and whose gross agricultural income total less than $5,000 qualify for exempt status under NOP rules.
Over the last two decades, the organic label has graduated from cameo appearances on supermarket shelves to full blown supporting actor taking up whole sections of major supermarket chains. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), sales of organic food increased nearly six-fold from 1997-2008 making organic food a $20 billion industry. Americans clearly are paying more attention to how their food is produced.
However, many small producers are choosing not to pursue organic certification, even though they plan to employ organic practices, due to costs and labor intensive practices. Their alternative? Direct contact with customers, transparent practices, word of mouth, and good old-fashioned trust.