The Journey toward Organic Certification

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If one were to start naming off illegal activities, using the term ‘organic’ improperly probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind. As it turns out, in regards to agriculture, it really is illegal to use the term ‘organic’ unless one is certified. While it’s perfectly legal to employ organic practices without official certification, one has to stick to terms like “sustainable.” Down2Earth Farms has always used sustainable methods since they began growing produce in 2012, but they’ve now made the jump to official organic certification.

One may wonder why a bit of terminology is such a big deal, but the truth is, being organically certified involves much more than abstaining from chemical pesticides. According to the USDA, organic agriculture involves practices at the cultural, biological, and mechanical levels and the promotion of ecological balance, preservation, biodiversity, and cycling resources. Of course, there’s also a list of no-no’s, including the use of sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, irradiation, and genetic engineering. Down2Earth Farms has always employed these principles, but Cecelia Redding of Down2Earth Farms has been on this path since college.

Cecelia Redding started out in mechanical engineering, but switched to agricultural engineering because her love for the combination of the biological sciences with the mechanical aspects of engineering. She watched from afar until deciding that she was going to farm using only sustainable and ecologically conscious practices. Eventually it all came together and culminated with finding the perfect piece of land to start Down2Earth Farms. However, this land had been used for farming with conventional methods. Organic certification requires one to wait three years after land has been used for conventional agriculture before applying for certification. During this time, one may only use approved materials and keep careful records of one’s agricultural practices. The three years are finally up, and Down2Earth Farms is now officially organic.

Organic agriculture does come with its own set of difficulties, and I don’t mean the yearly inspection. Two of the biggest difficulties come from pests and weeds. The primary way of dealing with pests is crop rotation. Certification actually requires a four-year rotation schedule, but Down2Earth doubles that with an eight-year schedule. If the same crop grows in the same place for too long, the relevant pests will build up in the area, some even living and growing in the soil. With a plentiful food supply growing in their proverbial living room, pests flourish and populate to increasingly problematic amounts. Rotating crops each year reduces the risk of a pest population boom, making farming without pesticides a little easier and helping to preserve environmental balance.

Creatures may cause their share of headaches, but plants share in the guilt. Weeds torment every farmer, but with organic agriculture, one can’t turn to Roundup for a solution. Organic herbicides do exist but have the drawback of being less effective. In addition, to use even an organic herbicide in organic agriculture, one must prove a problem currently exists. Even then there are strict controls, including only being able to spray some organic herbicides at certain times a day to avoid harming natural pollinators. Cecilia’s solution is to use her knowledge of engineering to combat weeds. By designing equipment to help fight weeds, she can control the problem in an ecologically responsible way. As an engineer, this is something she loves to do; however, it’s still a lot of extra time conventional farmers don’t have to spend. Organic agriculture takes time.

If farming organically involves so much time and trouble, why do it? The reasons may vary from person to person, but for Cecilia Redding, environmental aspects are at the core. She believes conventional farming practices are taking farmers away from where farming should be. With the use of conventional methods, people have “lost the science of building notorious soil” and wandered away from solid ecological practices. On the other hand, she feels that organic farming is a way to, “bring back the principles all farmers were taught to use,” and bring back good environmental practices as an essential part of that. For Redding and Down2Earth Farms, employing the ecologically sound practices of organic farming seems to be the responsible and logical choice, just as the name implies. When it comes to the motivation that makes the extra time and effort worthwhile, it seems to come down to the earth.

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