Understanding What it Means to Be a Certified Organic CSA

by | Feb 1, 2024 | CSA, From The Farm

The adoption of organic farming practices has surged in popularity, with Certified Organic Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) standing out as a notable trend. A question frequently posed to us is: Are you certified organic?  

Let’s explore what it means to be a certified organic CSA farm and the benefits that come with it. We’ll also give you the answer to that frequently asked question: Is Haffey Family Farm certified organic?

What is certified organic, according to the USDA?

According to the USDA, “Produce can be called organic if it’s certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. In instances when a grower has to use a synthetic substance to achieve a specific purpose, the substance must first be approved according to criteria that examine its effects on human health and the environment.” (https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/03/22/organic-101-what-usda-organic-label-means)

To simplify, organic farming involves using natural methods and materials while avoiding synthetic chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, and genetic engineering. Certified organic farmers follow specific practices like crop rotation and soil-building techniques to foster healthy soil. They utilize composts and other natural fertilizers to nourish their crops. Additionally, they establish landscape and buffer zones to safeguard local water sources and minimize pesticide runoff.

Organic certification by the USDA  allows the farm to sell, label, and represent their products as organic. According to the USDA, there are five steps to becoming certified organic. In simple terms, the five steps are as follows:

  1. The farmer should create an organic system plan
  2. Implement the organic system plan. Have it reviewed by a certifying agent.
  3. Receive inspection. 
  4. Have a certifying agent review the inspection report.
  5. Receive a decision from the certifier

For more information on what each of these steps entails, please read “Organic 101: Five Steps to Organic Certification” from the USDA.

What are the cost of becoming USDA certified organic?

How much does it cost to gain organic certification through the USDA? This depends on the certifying agent, the size, type, and complexity of the farm. Certification fees can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars and include the following: 

  • An application fee.
  • An annual fee.
  • An assessment of annual production or sales and inspection fees.

What are the Pros and Cons of being USDA certified organic?

In this post, we will focus on these aspects from the perspective of the farmer, rather than the consumer.

For farmers, the advantages of organic certification encompass expanded access to a wider marketplace, decreased exposure to synthetic agricultural chemicals, enhanced record-keeping practices, and ongoing education to acquire knowledge of new ecological farming methods.

Turning to the drawbacks for the farmer, the primary concerns revolve around costs and time. Throughout the transition period, typically lasting about three years, the farmer adopts organic practices but cannot sell their products at the certified organic price point. Moreover, production costs tend to be higher. The additional demands for meticulous record-keeping and other requirements may require extra management and labor support, posing challenges, particularly for a small family-run farm.

For a more detailed exploration of the pros and cons for farmers, you can refer to the article “Is Organic Certification Right for Your Operation?” as published by Penn State Extension.

Is Haffey Family Farm certified organic?

After covering the requirements, fees, and the pros and cons of achieving organic certification, let’s address the frequently asked question: Is Haffey Family Farm certified organic?

In straightforward terms, no, we are not USDA-certified organic.

However, this doesn’t imply that we do not employ organic farming practices. You’ll often hear from us that the produce we cultivate is a staple for our family, and our children frequently venture out to the fields to pick and enjoy produce directly from the source. Therefore, it’s important to note that organic farming methods hold significance for us, as it benefits both our family and yours. So, what farming methods does Haffey Family Farm adhere to?

Haffey Family Farm follows specific farming methods aligned with our commitment to organic practices.

Firstly, we exclusively cultivate non-GMO produce, avoiding the use of genetically modified seeds. Secondly, we employ sustainable farming techniques, incorporating practices such as crop rotation, minimal tillage, and cover crops. These measures not only contribute to the health of the soil but also reduce the necessity for additional fertilizers, as cover crops reintroduce nutrients to the soil. Thirdly, our approach involves using organic sprays only when necessary, steering clear of herbicides altogether. Our careful selection of plant varieties, ones naturally resilient to common regional diseases, helps minimize the need for spraying and aligns with our dedication to environmentally conscious and sustainable farming methods.

We realize that the topic of organic certification often elicits strong sentiments, whether in favor of or against it. Perhaps, one day we will take the step to becoming USDA-certified organic. Regardless, our goal will always remain the same – to cultivate healthy, high-quality, safe, and fresh produce for our valued farmer’s market customers and members of our Pittsburgh-based CSA. After all, our produce nourishes our family too!