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Eco Labeling

Jocelyn Campbell
steward

Joined: Nov 09, 2008
Posts: 2669
Location: Missoula, MT
    
  72
This is a nice summary of a variety of Eco Labels--some that I'd never heard of before:

http://www.msu.edu/%7Ehowardp/ecolabelspamphlet.pdf

(Thanks to Lawrence London for posting this link to the ibilio permaculture list.)

I've heard that some small family farms can't afford the USDA Organic certification. I wonder how affordable some of the other labels might be...


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tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3097
Location: woodland, washington
    
  53
I've heard that some small family farms can't afford the USDA Organic certification.


this is true, but I believe below a certain gross sales number, small farms can say they're organic without being certified.  they can't claim to be USDA certified organic, but they can use the word.  can't remember what that gross sales limit is at the moment.  there's also a chance I learned this in a dream and it isn't actually true...


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Jocelyn Campbell
steward

Joined: Nov 09, 2008
Posts: 2669
Location: Missoula, MT
    
  72
Here in Woodinville, there is a local food co-op forming, with the idea that all the food in it will conform to some sustainability standards and be grown within 300 miles of town. The co-op organizer has asked what we want in our co-op. This was my request.

I'd really like some outside-the-box thinking in terms of food labels. Since many producers might be too small to be certified organic, it would be helpful if there was some other kind of label or rating.

I'm a proponent of polyculture, and other "beyond organic" ways of growing food such as biodynamic and permaculture, no-till, etc. Unfortunately, I'm not aware of labels or certification programs these.

This is what I mean by "beyond organic":

  • [li]Less or no soil tilling, which means retaining more of the good stuff in the soil (30% or more of soil microorganisms--or is it soil nutrients, or both?--are lost to the air with each till)[/li]
    [li]No tilling equals mycelium, which can mean more nutrient and water sharing among plants, soil bio-remediation and more[/li]
    [li]Polyculture (the opposite of monocrop agriculture), which, similar to mycelium, can also mean more nutrient and water sharing, plus plants are less susceptible to pests and diseases and have more beneficial insects and pollinators[/li]
    [li]Less irrigation, often using polyculture, mycelium, mulching and/or other permaculture techniques, which conserves our water resources, washes away less soil and essential nutrients and leaves a more flavorful plant. [/li]


  • Over a year ago, Michigan State University listed all their Eco Labels for Farmers, which is close (and includes a column for animal welfare), but is still not exactly what I'd be looking for.


    Any permies know of a label or rating system that might work for this?
    tel jetson
    steward

    Joined: May 17, 2007
    Posts: 3097
    Location: woodland, washington
        
      53
    Jocelyn Campbell wrote:
    Any permies know of a label or rating system that might work for this?




    I guess 300 miles is a bit more than an afternoon jaunt, but maybe somebody from the co-op could just go check out some of the closer outfits under consideration.
    Jocelyn Campbell
    steward

    Joined: Nov 09, 2008
    Posts: 2669
    Location: Missoula, MT
        
      72
    tel jetson wrote:
    I guess 300 miles is a bit more than an afternoon jaunt, but maybe somebody from the co-op could just go check out some of the closer outfits under consideration.


    Well, they are doing that already - there are producers meetings, and patron meetings, and actually, both the producers and the patrons/customers will be members of this co-op. And both are invited to a meeting coming up on May 25.

    I just know that if I walk into the store, and there are two bins of carrots, and one is polyculture and one is monoculture, I'd rather buy the polyculture.

    Maybe if the farm name is on the label, I'll have gotten familiar enough with the farms to know what type of farming they do. Though I imagine that there will be dozens upon dozens, if not hundreds, of producers even for this small-ish town co-op. People could be driving in from all of the Eastside suburbs of Seattle for this.
    tel jetson
    steward

    Joined: May 17, 2007
    Posts: 3097
    Location: woodland, washington
        
      53
    ah.  I was thinking of the small-ish buying club sort of co-op with just a handful of producers.  sounds a bit more ambitious than that, though.

    I don't think the label or certification you're looking for exists.  yet.  if these folks want to get a little more ambitious, seems like a good chance that doing the certification theyselves would be the start of a good thing.  while permaculture hasn't quite shaken its fringe status, there are plenty of folks disillusioned with the sham that organic certification has become and are looking for alternatives that better reflect their values.  wouldn't surprise me if other local independent groceries and small chains in King County started using your co-op's certification, too.  and from there, who knows?

    it would encourage better practices by producers and likely reward them with price premiums, it would create a few more ag jobs for knowledgeable folks to do the certifying, it might bring a small bit of additional revenue to the co-op if demand spreads, and it would probably add substantially to the number of headaches suffered by the folks involved.

    and now I've actually followed the meeting link you posted and I see that it's a 21 Acres project.  I think this would be right up their alley.  high apple pie in the sky hopes out there.  supposing you like my idea, pitch it at a meeting and see if there's support.
    Jocelyn Campbell
    steward

    Joined: Nov 09, 2008
    Posts: 2669
    Location: Missoula, MT
        
      72
    tel jetson wrote:
    I don't think the label or certification you're looking for exists.  yet. 


    Yup, I don't think it exists yet either. I'm not sure it needs an official "certification" or another costly system that small producers can't afford any better than the organic certification system.

    tel jetson wrote:
    and now I've actually followed the meeting link you posted and I see that it's a 21 Acres project.  I think this would be right up their alley.  high apple pie in the sky hopes out there.  supposing you like my idea, pitch it at a meeting and see if there's support.


    Yes, the 21 Acres Local Food Co-op plans to be a major food hub for small producers. It plans to combine small, local produce so that there is enough volume for restaurants, schools and other industrial buyers. The meeting I went to, there was a manager from a chain of retirement homes who wanted to buy local, organic produce for their kitchens. Cool, huh?

    And, yes again, tel, I have been pitching it!  I spoke up at the meeting and said I'd like polyculture food, and now my blurb above was e-mailed to the discussion group set up for the co-op. I'll keep pitching and asking and see where it goes. 
    Jocelyn Campbell
    steward

    Joined: Nov 09, 2008
    Posts: 2669
    Location: Missoula, MT
        
      72
    Oh, I just received an e-mail on this!

    Even though I'm not a vegan, Helen Atthowe, whom Paul calls "Goddess of the Soil" is a big proponent of veganic standards. (Her website is http://veganicpermaculture.com/.)

    Here's some details on what veganic means, which says polyculture is used to increase fertility without manures or blood meal, etc.

    From the same website, www.goveganic.net, there is a section on veganic certification. Though primarily UK programs, it seems there might be growing interest in the US for this type of thing.

    So, veganic should mean polyculture, though it's more about no animal inputs.



    [Thumbnail for veganiclabel.jpg]

    tel jetson
    steward

    Joined: May 17, 2007
    Posts: 3097
    Location: woodland, washington
        
      53
    Jocelyn Campbell wrote:
    Yup, I don't think it exists yet either. I'm not sure it needs an official "certification" or another costly system that small producers can't afford any better than the organic certification system.


    that certification model is obviously broken.  seems like a creative person or team could come up with good alternatives, though.  a sliding fee scale based on gross sales, is one simple example.  that would keep it from being an onerous burden for small outfits, but still cover the costs of the certification.  or, don't charge the producer at all, but add a very small amount to any produce carrying the certification label.  I would guess there are plenty of ways to do it well.
    tel jetson
    steward

    Joined: May 17, 2007
    Posts: 3097
    Location: woodland, washington
        
      53
    I'm thinking that a proliferation of certifications and labels would cause a lot of confusion.  might be better (or not) to have a profile of each producers practices available for customers to read if they're interested.
    Jocelyn Campbell
    steward

    Joined: Nov 09, 2008
    Posts: 2669
    Location: Missoula, MT
        
      72
    tel jetson wrote:
    I'm thinking that a proliferation of certifications and labels would cause a lot of confusion.  might be better (or not) to have a profile of each producers practices available for customers to read if they're interested.


    I know. I'm struggling with the too many nuances of the labels as well. Adding to the challenge is that the co-ops "food hub" model (I think) means a bin of carrots at the co-op could mixed from multiple farms. Sigh.

    Vetting the farms in the first place, and listing a profile on the co-op website is probably the best route.
    John Polk
    steward

    Joined: Feb 20, 2011
    Posts: 6582
    Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
        
    135
    Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) is a grass roots "organic" organization founded in 2002.
    Their standards are essentially the same as NOP, but without the expense (and "hoop jumping" as the national USDA program.  There are no fees (but they ask for an annual contribution of $75-200).  Each farm is to be inspected once per year by another CNG farmer.  Each member is also expected to inspect another CNG farm (if within a 1 hour drive) each year.  They have over 600 member farms, and growing.  They offer some free (and also inexpensive) signage, labels, etc.

    They have 3 categories: Produce/Livestock/Apiary.  Worth checking out at:
    http://www.naturallygrown.org/
    Jocelyn Campbell
    steward

    Joined: Nov 09, 2008
    Posts: 2669
    Location: Missoula, MT
        
      72
    Thanks John, that is helpful. (My foggy brain seems to recall that I might have heard of this before...)

    Maybe the folks starting the co-op are already savvy to this, but I'll add it to my comments just in case.
                              


    Joined: May 08, 2011
    Posts: 3
    I see issues with any labelling that is not peer reviewed as being easily manipulated. By peer I mean other farmers / consumers not a group of people paid to inspect the farm. 

    I can see in 5 or 10 years organic will change so much and start to allow chemicals etc due to the large amount of money that business could throw at the USDA. It has happened with the food inspections where big business is able to pay off the inspectors etc to turn a blind eye. Just look at eggs, the definition of free range in Australia has gone from outside all day in pastures to allowed to be outside of the sheds for a small part of the day.

    Transparency is what needs to occur. Photos of the farm etc would make a big difference along with a peer reviewed system that where the results can be seen by all consumers. Have a star rating system, therefore over time as new best practices occur you can change the requirements of what is 5 stars and just relabel all the farms of the produce, you define one star as your lowest acceptable standard (Need to consider that new farms able to obtain one star in year one is better than having to wait 5 years to get organic status). Move away from the Yes / No ratings that occur.

    For Meat
    Five Star – Holistic Pasture Management, No antibiotics, No Supplemental Feed, … 
    Four Star – As above with Supplemental Feed
    Etc

    For Crops
    Five Star – No till, no pesticides, no herbicides, passive irrigation, 100% level of organic matter in soil, 100% mycelium content of soil, crop / stock rotation.
    Four Star – As above however, irrigation, 80% level of organic matter,  80% mycelium.
    Etc 

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    John Polk
    steward

    Joined: Feb 20, 2011
    Posts: 6582
    Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
        
    135
    Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) is peer reviewed: each inspection is by another CNG farmer.  To help keep it honest, YOU cannot inspect the farm that certified you.  Each farm must submit an answered questionaire as part of their application.  This questionaire is then posted as public record with the description of your farm (each CNG farm is given a "web page" to explain/promote themselves).  From what I have investigated, I like what I have seen.

    For any wannabe bee keepers, I would recommend reading their standards for CNG bee keeping.
    Suzy Bean
    steward

    Joined: Apr 05, 2011
    Posts: 940
    Location: Stevensville, MT
        
        8
    Paul and Jocelyn cover more listener questions in this podcast. Some things they talk about include Paul's food rating system, (similar to Jack Spirko's Agritrue), eco-labeling, nurture vs. nature, recycling, legality of things like the clothes line, and pirating copyrighted material.


    www.thehappypermaculturalist.wordpress.com
    Casey Homecroft


    Joined: Feb 03, 2012
    Posts: 20
    Location: Ohio, Zone 6a
    tel jetson wrote:
    I've heard that some small family farms can't afford the USDA Organic certification.


    this is true, but I believe below a certain gross sales number, small farms can say they're organic without being certified.  they can't claim to be USDA certified organic, but they can use the word.  can't remember what that gross sales limit is at the moment.  there's also a chance I learned this in a dream and it isn't actually true...


    I literally JUST read this in an article (less than 5 minutes ago), so you didn't dream it! The annual gross sales has to be below $5,000 in order to use "organic" without getting certified.

    From ATTRA's "Market Gardening: A Start Up Guide" (https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/viewhtml.php?id=18#organic)

    "The production and marketing of organic foods is subject to federal regulation. Organic production is defined in legal terms and use of the term organic is controlled. You must be certified by the USDA to market your products as organic unless your annual sales of organic products are less than $5,000. ATTRA has numerous publications that address organic matters. See ATTRA's Guide to Organic Publications for more information."
     
     
    subject: Eco Labeling
     
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