Sustainable Farms: Conventional vs. Organic
How is it already May?
PLEASE tell me that you have been seeing all the gorgeous pictures from the farm! The crops are growing, we are preparing for our upcoming audits, the trucks are getting serviced, the coolers and containers are getting washed and ready to go, the boxes/labels are ordered and being received. There is a lot of anxiousness around the farm this time of year.
My mind is running on caffeine and audit policy and requirements; exciting I KNOW!
3rd Party Audits
For the past 3 years we have received a 3rd party GAP audit. This audit allows our produce to be sold to larger distributors, into the school systems, restaurants and to many of your favorite home-cooks from Scott and surrounding counties! This audit is a stamped and sealed golden certificate that ensures our practices are sound, produce is safe and policies in place to handle any type of threat to our fields (think wildlife, disease, worker sickness, handling, cleaning, packing, distributing; literally EVERYTHING). This audit lets you know that the produce you are getting from our sustainable farm is being scrutinized to the 10th degree.
Think of it this way… We knowingly invite “Karen” to our farm to pick apart everything. There is nothing that is off limits, our fields, cooler, wash lines, break areas, equipment and even employees. Everyone is expected to know what to do pending certain risk situations. Everyone is expected to know where the things are, what the steps are and who the chain of command is for each circumstance. This is a difficult audit that requires A LOT of documentation, but that certificate is important to us and our customers. It signifies that we will go above and beyond all standards set by FDA and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and that our produce can be trusted. I know it sounds like this audit is something that all farms should have, but many do not. If you are working with another farm, ask them about their audits and certifications. More importantly, what does that certification mean and if it aligns with your expectations.
Sustainable Farms: USDA's Harmonized GAP+ Audit
This year, in addition to our 3rd party GAP audit, we will also be receiving a USDA GAP+ audit. For this certification, the USDA will be at our farm inspecting our documentation logs, our harvest practices, and our overall operation. It is more “in field” intensive; inspecting our irrigation systems, our equipment and containers, our workers and HOW the produce is handled in the time between the field and the consumer. As our customer reach grows, so does the produce safety requirements from each organization. Our expectation is that you will not be able to find a more sound and regulated operation when comparing farms to farms; we’re up for the challenge!
When we started Handpicked, I thought that our most frequently asked question would center around produce safety.
Is that our top asked question? No.
Is that in our top 5 most asked questions? No.
My question is WHY?? You have access to the farmer of your food and you do not choose to ask them about produce safety and what is it that we do to keep your family safe? Why are we not asking these questions?
I see so many conversations about making healthy choices for our families. Mom here; I know about the weight that comes with making the best choices for my family. So why are we not asking about produce safety practices and certifications surrounding produce safety?
ASK ABOUT SAFETY! What organizations or governing bodies are assessing the safety of the farm? Your farmer is the person in control of food safety. Ask how food safety is a priority at the farms you are looking to support. We put SO MUCH time, money and what feels like whole years of my life towards produce safety and making sure that is visible to not only large companies seeking produce, but for the families that are visiting the farm and then preparing meals for their family.
Conventional Farming vs. Organic Farming
One of our frequent flyer questions is ARE YOU ORGANIC?
When people ask that, I try to think of the question that people are really trying to answer. Organic marketing has created such a blurred reality of what that term truly means regarding our food supply that it is easy to get confused and think of things as all-inclusive.
Maybe these customers are wanting to know if our produce is chemical-free. My answer is no, we are not chemical free, but certified organic produce also does NOT mean chemical-free. I might get a response that organic farms only use “natural chemicals”; that’s not exactly true either. There are synthetic chemicals that are used on organic farms.
Lets break this down a little more. The person that controls the amount of chemical, type of chemical and frequency of chemical application is your farmer. Conventional farming vs organic farming does NOT mean there are more chemicals being used at a higher frequency. Chemicals cost money; a lot of money actually. No farmer, regardless of their style farming, wants to spend money on chemicals. It is sometimes necessary to control weeds that could cause crop loss, to control insects that again spoil your crops and reduce income for the farmer, to control disease pending climate. An unusually humid growing season will demand a different response from the farmer when compared to regular precipitation or dry climate for our region.
At HomeGrown, we use the absolute minimum amount of chemicals needed to keep our fields healthy and yielding fruit. We follow strict guidelines on when chemical application occurs and when produce is harvested for consumers. If chemical-use is the true question you are trying to get the answer to, your farmer generates the appropriate plan for their farm.
Maybe the question is about nutritional value of conventional vs organic produce. My answer; there is no nutritional differences between conventionally raised produce and organically raised produce.
Maybe the confusion is that organic produce is more expensive so it must be better than conventionally raised produce. Nope; price does not mean superior. Marketing has created this false conception that we need to pay more for a “healthier” option. Nutritional values are the same for a conventional yellow squash vs an organic yellow squash; why pay more?
Maybe the question is about produce safety, but these blurred marketing ads make it seem like organic = safe; y’all this is NOT true.
Safety is our TOP priority, and we choose to conventionally farm; no shade at organic farms, but that’s not part of our dream.
Ok, pushed my soap box back under the bed.
If you’ve read this far; THANK YOU! I hope that you feel a little more comfortable asking the right questions surrounding some of the most important decisions you can make for yourself and your families.
BE AN INFORMED CONSUMER!!
It’s so much more than food y’all.