Admit it, you’ve thought about making your farm Certified Organic at some point, and why not? The prices you get at market are generally better, “organic” is a nice thing to add to your market sign for customers, and being certified eliminates that whole conversation about “Do you spray?” It’s a very attractive idea overall. But perhaps you find the process daunting, you just aren’t ready to throw down the money (currently around $250 for the year per venture), or you aren’t sure whether it’s necessary for your farm. Whatever the reason, if somewhere in the back of your mind endures the idea that you may want to one day become Certified Organic, the whole process can be made easier (and faster) by simply following a few basic guidelines.
Use Only Recognized Amendments
Every certifier is a little different, but in my experience they all respect the certification of the Organic Materials Review Institute or those that meet the National Organic Program standards. In other words, if you plan to add an amendment to your soil or potting mix, make sure it is an approved product. Most approved products will add “OMRI Certified” to the label, but some won’t. You can look it up online or call your local certifier to check.
Take Really Great Notes
Certifiers love to see that you’re organized, but they also need to see your activity. The date when you cultivated a crop is not as important as when you fertilized it, seeded it, treated it with a an approved bio-pesticide, harvested it—those sorts of things. Keep all the notes that you can. Also keep any invoices for sales in case a certifier want to see those. I keep a running journal on my computer and update it at the same time every day with the date, what I did that day, and any amendments or products I used.
Order Organic Seed
You do not have to use all organic seed to be organic, but be careful with conventional seed. If it is pelletized or treated with anything that does not meet National Organic Program standards, it can cost you certification in the fields where it was used for three years. Also, if you do not use organic seed for something—say you have a variety of lettuce you like that is not available organically—you will have to show that you checked at least three other sources. Price cannot determine purchase either, so just because you find it cheaper as conventional seed does not mean you can use that as an excuse to buy it.
Fertilize With Compost & Approved Fertilizers
If you’ve been using chemical or unapproved fertilizers, becoming Certified Organic will require you to switch, so you might as well get in the habit. For organic farming, you can use any kind of compost, with a slight catch, mostly involving how long the pile got to certain temperatures. This type must be applied 120 days before harvesting a crop that touches the ground, such as beets and lettuce, or 90 days before a crop that doesn’t, such as corn, okra or beans. Certifiers do not call this compost, but rather “manure.” Regardless, if you get in the habit of following those rules now it will help when you go for certification.
Get A Yearly Soil Test
Every year your inspector will ask for a soil test. This will monitor the efficacy of your practices, but you should get one no matter what because it will also tell you where you are deficient and where your pH stands. Keep those results in a folder with any invoices and receipts so that if the inspector makes a specific request you can produce it fairly quickly.
Do these few things and organic certification should come pretty quickly—when and if you finally decide to make the leap.