If you’re reading this, certified organic food likely makes its way onto your table regularly, so you don’t need us to tell you how great it is for people and the planet (it really is!). You probably don’t need us to tell you that certified organic farmers meet strict regulations to ensure their veggies are, indeed, great for people and the planet (they really do!). Here’s what we would like to tell you about – the “transition period.”
Before food can even bear the certified organic logo, the land on which it has been grown must have been managed organically for one to three years, depending on the history of the land. It’s all part of that “good for people and the planet” thing we keep not telling you about.
These three years of transition can make or break an organic farmer-to-be. It also demonstrates in a real way the farmer’s dedication to organic practices. A transitional farmer does everything required of certified organic farms, but can’t label their food as organic. At the same time, there’s a steep learning curve and higher expenses as the farmer learns the ins-and-outs of organic regulations. (We wouldn’t describe the Canada Organic Standard as light reading – though if you’re wondering just what organic farmers mean when they talk crop rotation and buffer zones, it’s worth checking out.)
Support from organic food lovers like you is essential to helping transitional organic farmers through those first three years. Transitional farmers are learning, building community, and shaping their farm philosophy, and they’d love to fill you in on what’s happening behind the scenes. After all, they’re pouring a lot of time, energy, and love into transitioning their farm – haven’t they earned some bragging rights?
By asking questions and supporting transitional organic farmers, shoppers reinforce the organic values that attracted those farmers to organic in the first place. And building relationships between farmers and food lovers strengthens communities and food systems – all while putting more healthy, delicious food on your plate.
How can you help?
Talk to farmers. Because they can’t use the organic label, they rely on building face-to-face relationships to share their farming practices. Ask questions, and look for farmers labeling their product as “transitional”.
Join a CSA – and shop at farmers markets that feature transitional organic farmers. Many transitional organic farmers aren’t able to sell to grocery stores, who want to see that coveted organic logo.
Spread the word. Many people only buy products that bear the certified organic logo – and that’s great! But your organic-only friends will be happy to know that transitional farmers follow all the same standards, and are inspected annually to ensure they are on track to certification, just like already-certified farmers.
Darcy Smith is a farm enthusiast and backyard gardener who wears many hats in the farming community. She’s the editor of the BC Organic Grower and communications guru at the Certified Organic Associations of BC (COABC), as well as the Young Agrarians Land Matcher for the Fraser Valley.
*Photo credit: COABC