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Are We Organic?

If you are asking if we are USDA Certified Organic, the answer is no.

If you are asking if we comply with the organic standards of the gardening industry, the answer is yes.

If you are asking whether or not our herbs are grown sustainably, the answer is YES.

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The bottom line is this: for a small grower, the certification process is costly, but more than the cost, it is the time and the arduous record keeping that is required. And in the end, the outputs are no different than what we have right now. We are a small grower, and all of our efforts are on growing a quality crop. We really don’t have the resources available for the time consuming record keeping. In addition, there is NOTHING in the certification process that requires a grower to be SUSTAINABLE. You can be an organic farmer, but your practices can run counter to the idea of sustainability. That is the real irony here.

What does USDA Organic certification mean?

USDA organic products have strict production and labeling requirements. Organic products must meet the following requirements:

  • Produced without excluded methods, (e.g., genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge).
  • Produced using allowed substances.
  • Overseen by a USDA National Organic Program-authorized certifying agent, following all USDA organic regulations.
Aside from the last bullet point, we are all good at The Growers Exchange. We use none of the restricted methods, and we have been overseeing our farm just fine for several generations now. We do get assistance from the USDA. Our conservation plantings are designed and inspected by experts at the NRCS. We don’t think we know it all, but we do know how to grow herb plants without rules and regulations about plant culture.

In terms of the oversight, please keep this in mind: We are among our plants each and every day. We inspect our crop daily. We can assure you that we are healthier and more sane because of that relationship.

We have been growing SUSTAINABLY for 30+ years, and what we count on is a peer to peer inspection. Our customers are our best inspectors.

organic sustainable herb plants

And, one more point on the ‘allowed substances’; because we are not tied up in these regulations, we are quick to move on newer ‘substances’ as we don’t have to wait around for a federal bureaucracy to approve or disapprove (that can take years). The greenhouse industry has demanded biodegradable, low toxicity chemicals for their plants. The pesticides available today are very specific and use tactics like life cycle interruption instead of old fashion poisoning. These products eventually receive Organic Certification, but are actually available many years before allowed to be used in organic growing.

So, the reality of why a lot of folks, small growers like us, go through these hoops is summed up by a quote from a small organic farmer in California:

"As a farmer, I need to capture every market I possibly can," he says. "I need to be able to sell to a store that has some consumers that don't have any idea what they are buying except that it's organic. I wish they were more connected to their food, but I need to capture their dollars to survive." This makes being Organic a marketing decision.
Would we sell more herb plants if we had the certification? Maybe. Are we bad business people? No, we are simply realistic. In the end, for us to become ‘organic’ for all of the wrong reasons is not going to result in better plants. All the time spent keeping detailed records is time away from the plants.

If you are asking whether or not our herbs are grown sustainably, the answer is YES.

We are not a USDA Certified Organic farm. We are a Sustainable Farm. There are NO STRICT RULES in the certification process that requires farmers or growers to adhere to sustainable practices, ‘agriculture that follows the principles of nature to develop systems for raising crops and livestock that are, like nature, self-sustaining’.

We are good stewards of the land, the air and the water on which life depends. Our crops are grown in a manner that does not harm our resources; sustainable practices use all natural methods. And all of our practices can be measured.

In The Greenhouse:

  • High Efficiency Wood Stove: a low carbon method of heating that, when combined with the use of waste wood from local mills is almost carbon neutral. This is renewable energy at its best.
  • Biodegradable Chemicals: we only use NON-SYNTHETIC pesticides, herbicides and fungicides
  • Non GMO: we never use GMO seeds in our greenhouses
  • Defensive Growing: we have screened all of our greenhouses as a first line of defense
  • Feeding: herbs need fertilizer, we do use a Fish Emulsion Foliar Feed Spray which contain all the minerals available in seawater.
  • Reuse of Plastics: this is a big issue for us. Plastics are a way of life in the greenhouse industry, but we have been able to reuse all of our roof plastics to up to 3 years (beyond factory recommendations). We then use them for another 10 years as high tunnel walls. This effectively keeps 100’s of pounds of plastic out of landfills. Because we ship directly to the customer (versus to a retail distributor) we are able to reuse ‘flats’ for up to 4 seasons, again drastically cutting out plastic waste.
  • Pots: if we fail anywhere it is here. The horticultural industry recycles about 1% of its plastics (as compared to 25% for the soda industry). 100’s of thousands of pounds of plastic to the dump nationwide. The industry is getting pressure from consumers, and the cost of pots is high, so we are hopeful that the market will work to improve this issue. The good news is that all of our pots and flats are made with a high percentage of recycled consumer plastic.
  • Compost: all of our plant material waste is composted. Period.
  • UPS/FEDEX: shippers with large and effective green initiatives

On the Farm:

  • Dedicated wildlife areas: give back living space
  • Restorative Native Planting: restore both prairie and woodland habitat
  • Raise Only Heritage Breeds: geese, ducks, goats, cattle, chickens and pigs
  • Use of organic feeds
  • Recycle: cardboard, aluminum, plastic, metal
  • Partners for the Environment: Rice River Center (we are in partnership to monitor water quality, water flow and various other data to ultimately improve water quality worldwide), Virginia Game Departments (Deer and Quail Management Assistance Programs), CRP strips for water quality
  • Soil Restoration: use of no till farming methods
  • Human side: surplus food distributed all over our county, job creation in a county that has a large unemployment rate and a pretty great working environment for our team.

Our Growing Philosophy

So, in the end, if we lose ‘market share’ because we are not USDA Certified Organic, that is a choice we have made and we can live with that. And, if potential customers are scared away by the lack of that certification, we can live with that as well. But, for the folks that can look beyond, please know that this is our pledge to you:

When you buy an herb from The Growers Exchange, that single plant has been grow, start to finish, with methods that are as natural and as sustainable as possible.