The Real Organic Project: Disgusted With the USDA, Farmers Make Their Own Organic Label

The Real Organic Project: Disgusted With the USDA, Farmers Make Their Own Organic Label

The Real Organic Project: Disgusted With the USDA, Farmers Make Their Own Organic Label

By Dan Nosowitz on March 5, 2018

How much do you trust the organic label?

Christopher Paquette on Flickr

The certified organic label is, easily, the most important label in the U.S. food regulation system.

Worth billions of dollars, the organic label is the only federally regulated food label that conveys any information about how that food was produced. Certified organic is the fastest-growing food segment—and the distinction can be profitable for farmers (and also costly and difficult to implement)—but that doesn’t mean everyone’s happy with it. A series of scandals and a lack of faith in the current iteration of the USDA, which oversees the organic program, has led a group of pioneering organic farmers to create their own label: the Real Organic Project.

In the past few years, the rules surrounding organic farming have taken a turn not to the liking of the sustainability-focused small-scale farmers who pushed the movement into being with the 1990 Farm Bill. For one, the USDA declared that soil-free farming methods can snag the coveted label despite objections from farmers who consider the Earth a fundamental component of organic farming. And more recently, the USDA torpedoed a previously-approved law that would have required basic animal welfare standards for organic livestock.

“I got involved when I started seeing a lot of hydroponic tomatoes certified as organic showing up in the market, about five years ago,” says Dave Chapman, a longtime organic farmer who runs Long Wind Farm, in Vermont. “We made a really good faith effort to reform the organic program, but we realized [certification of hydroponics] was not the only egregious failure—the NOP [National Organic Program] was very weak on animal welfare, too.”

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