Farmers Relying on Growing Trust in Organic Labeling
Bill Jaynes follows the U.S. Department of Agriculture's organic farming rules to a T -- his chickens aren't given steroids and none of his crops are sprayed with pesticides.
But, like many small-time farmers who use chemical-free methods, he hasn't registered with the government to sell his produce under the official "organic" label.
Jaynes, 63, bought 17-acre BeeTree Farms on Georgia Highway 211 in Barrow County a year ago and has been making a living selling home-grown produce. Like many other all-natural farmers, he willingly opens his farm to shoppers so they can make sure he's farming the way he says -- that he doesn't use pesticides, but homemade, bug-fighting remedies like garlic, dishwashing detergent and cayenne pepper.
Northeast Georgia is dotted with all-natural farmers like Jaynes. Unwilling to bow to the USDA to become "organic" certified, they have made a small economy of local buyers and sellers -- but with no professionals checking on the farms, they are susceptible to fraud.
Jaynes has seen it first-hand. He once saw a farmer at a local market hawking bunches of lettuce he claimed he'd grown himself -- but he had forgotten to take off the "Made in California" labels.
The USDA passed the Organic Foods Production Act in 1990, saying farms had to register with the U.S. government if they wanted to sell their products as officially inspected organic. Misleading consumers would result in a $1,000 fine.
Jaynes and other farmers don't need to register with the USDA if they don't label their produce as certified organic. But if they aren't certified, there's no official guarantee that the farmer is growing produce without pesticides, hormones and other additives.
So, shoppers must trust that their local farmer is being truthful.
Most consumers do trust, according to customers at the Daily Groceries Co-op on Prince Avenue. Katie Pincura, a volunteer at the co-op, admits she worries sometimes that no one checks in on local farmers. But the co-op employees sometimes visit the farms, she said, so they can see how things are managed.
Another local farm that's not certified is the Full Moon Co-op, whose owners recently opened Farm 255, a restaurant on West Washington Street. The farm's summer harvest can be found in recipes like red onion foccaccia, kale and collard greens and fried green tomatoes at the restaurant.
It's too expensive to be certified as organic, says Farm 255 owner Jeff Stoike. But he has an open invitation to the public to come inspect the produce at the farm.
Back in Barrow, Jayne has tips to make sure produce is naturally grown. "Look for irregularities," Jayne said.
"If you buy lettuce and it doesn't have a few bug holes in it, it isn't organic."
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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News