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Organic farming has gotten a lot of attention, but what does it really mean to you as a consumer? The label “certified organic” means that the food products are grown according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's organic regulations. Farmers complete an organic farm plan and businesses like bakeries or wineries submit a written plan for their operations. Farms and businesses are inspected annually by a USDA Accredited Certification Agency, which verifies that the operation is following regulations and its organic plan.

People who promote organic farming advocate that it is a system that maintains and improves the productivity of the soil by encouraging and enhancing natural biological processes. In practice, organic farming focuses on the health of the farm's soils as the key to healthy crops and animal growth. The idea is to feed the soil, and let the soil feed the plant. The national Organic Standards provide a framework for farmers to follow.

Organic farmers do not use synthetic pesticides and herbicides, sewage sludge, genetically engineered seeds and synthetic fertilizers. They use growing methods such as annual crop rotations, which means switching the location of plants each season, and employing physical barriers like row covers. To further reduce or eliminate the need for pesticides organic farmers enrich the soil through particular cover crops and also use compost. While there are a small number of pesticides allowed, the types used do not remain on the crops. Animals raised on an organic farm must have access to the outdoors and grazing stock must be on pasture during the growing season. No antibiotics or growth hormones can be used and all grains and hay must be certified organic.

Businesses that make organic foods, like breads, wines, cheeses, work to assure that their products do not come into contact with certain substances like cleaners, sanitizers, pest control materials and other non-certified products. There is a comprehensive list of actual regulations.

There are a handful of groups that conduct organic certifications in New York State. The Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, Inc., (NOFA-NY), is one of them. They act as an advocacy and education organization of farmers, gardeners and consumers devoted to organic farming and gardening. While NOFA-NY began as a voluntary organic certification program in 1985, certification was required for farms that wanted to label and market their farm products as organic starting in 2002. NOFA-NY, which maintains records on the farms that they certify, confirm a significant increase in organic farms. In 1996 there were 118 certified organic farms while there are 333 in 2006 with another 163 new applicants who are beginning the certification process.

Going organic may have some economic implications for farmers. One study by David Pimmentel of Cornell University concluded that organic farming produces the same yields of corn and soybeans as does conventional farming, but may use less energy, water and no synthetic chemical pesticides. At the same time, cash crops like certain fruits and vegetables cannot be grown as frequently over time on organic farms because of the dependence on certain practices to supply the nutrients to the plants and to control pests. The labor costs in organic farming are somewhat higher. These factors can contribute to higher costs for organic products.

In Ontario County there are a number of organic certified farms and businesses, some of which are certified by NOFA-NY. These farms grow a variety of vegetables, grains, fruits, and herbs; produce break and herbal soaps, chickens and eggs, and soybean oil.


This site brought to you by The Ontario County Agricultural Enhancement Board In cooperation with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ontario County, the Finger Lakes Visitors Connection, and Ontario County Department of Planning. Canandaigua, New York 14424
585-396-4455 or 585-394-3977.