To Certify or Not To Certify: The perspective of small-scale organic farmers

Local +organic = a win-win situation for growers, consumers and the environment.  

Small-scale organic farmers represent the face of the Canadian organic industry—at the farmers’ market, CSA drop-off and at the restaurant back door. Today, public on-farm exposure often happens through harvest days and other events offered by small farms.

Many of these farmers, however, are not certified organic. The typical small-scale farmer depends on direct marketing relationships—their sales pitch cultivates and educates buyers interested in supporting environmentally sound farming methods.  For these growers, the expense and effort of certification isn’t justifiable, since attaining certified organic status doesn’t significantly increase sales or the trust already earned from buyers.

In the spring of 2014, the Working Group on Small Scale Organic Certification (WGSSOC) administered a survey to small-scale farmers. 200 responses were received.  The data highlights how the current “one size fits all” model of organic certification is often not feasible for small-scale operators.

Meanwhile, “opting out” is far from optimal. The split among organic producers (certified vs. non-certified) confuses customers, who are still learning what organic agriculture is all about, and why it matters.  Survey respondents cited concerns that the  decision of small farmers not to certify has hindered the growth of the organic movement.

Building on its survey data, the WGSSOC has drafted two organic certification models that aim to be attainable for a small-scale producer focusing mainly on direct sales (farm-gate, CSA, farmer’s market, etc.): the Peer Certification Model and the Self-Declaration Model.

For both models, features are:

  • Simple online application
  • Can be used only in jurisdictions without a provincial organic regulation.
  • All documentation pertains to small, diversified operations engaging in direct sales.
  • Bureaucratic overhead is reduced.

 

“Certified Local Organic” (CLO) The Peer Certification Model

Annual on-farm inspections are conducted by peers. Compliance with the Canada Organic Standard is verified online by a third-party certification body.

  • Records and verification reports are accessible and available online.
  • Annual certification costs  based on gross sales of organic product.
  • BUT: Peer verification of farms in remote areas may be difficult to arrange.

Organic Affidavit (OA)”—The Self-Declaration model

Producers publicly pledge to understand and follow the Canada Organic Standard.

  • Applications and pledges can be viewed online.
  • Low annual certification costs.
  • BUT: Model may not be accepted by the rest of the organic producer community.

 

SHARE YOUR PERSPECTIVE!

Would the self declaration or peer review model be something that feels more appropriate for your farm? Do these models address the concerns and needs you have around certification? If so, which one would be the most appropriate?

Your input will inform WGSSOC’s presentation of these models at the Technical Committee on Organic Agriculture meetings in December 2014 and April 2015.

Needing additional information? Click here to access documentation about Small-Scale Certification.

 

Originally posted on the Organic Federation of Canada’s blog on October 30th 2014