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organic literacy initiative

Building Organic Partnerships: Sound and Sensible Certification Projects

This is the seventeenth installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.

Making organic certification accessible, attainable, and affordable involves collaboration with many partners across the country and around the globe. To advance this work, USDA supports a diverse community of organic stakeholders.

Nonprofits, businesses, universities, state governments and other organizations lead a range of technical assistance, training, outreach and certification programs for organic farms and businesses.  These organizations provide the National Organic Program (NOP), part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), with valuable feedback about how to keep organic certification sound and sensible and how to meet the needs of new and transitioning organic farmers. To support their work, USDA is awarding project contracts to 13 organizations that will advance the NOP’s Sound and Sensible initiative by identifying and removing barriers to certification and streamlining the certification process.

Organic 101: Understanding the "Made with Organic***" Label

This is the sixteenth installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.

Deciphering food labels and marketing claims can be a challenge for the average consumer.  Companies use production and handling claims as a way to differentiate their products in the marketplace. Organic is one label that most consumers are familiar with, but understanding what “organic” really means can help consumers make informed choices.

USDA certified organic products have strict production and labeling requirements.  The U.S. organic industry is regulated by the National Organic Program (NOP), part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.  Certified organic products are produced without excluded methods such as genetic engineering or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  The organic standards are designed to allow natural substances in organic farming while prohibiting synthetic substances.

Organic 101: Ensuring Organic Integrity through Inspections

This is the fifteenth installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.

USDA certified organic products are produced and sold around the world, many originating from over 17,700 organic operations right here in the United States. The USDA organic label assures consumers that products have been produced through approved methods and that prohibited substances, like synthetic pesticides, have not been used. I am often asked how the USDA verifies organic claims, and whether organic operations are inspected.

In order to sell, label, or represent products as organic in the United States, operations must be certified. The National Organic Program, part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, accredits private, foreign, and State entities called certifying agents to certify and inspect organic operations.

So how does this all work? First, the operation would apply for certification through a certifying agent. The certifier will ask for information including a history of substances applied to land during the previous three years, and an Organic System Plan describing the practices and substances to be used. The certifier reviews applications to verify that practices comply with USDA organic regulations, and then an inspector conducts an on-site inspection.

In Virginia, a Food Hub Helps Growers Scale Up

Mark Seale got out of agriculture early. A Virginia native raised on the family farm, he didn’t see a future in the business once he finished high school – and his family didn’t argue with him.

But over the years, Mark found himself drawn back to agriculture in Virginia. Working with produce was something he’d grown up around, and a desire to do something in the industry was tugging at him. He returned to Virginia and opened Simply Fresh Produce, a retail outlet in Charlottesville. That’s where he met Jim Epstein, a real estate developer concerned about the disappearance of Virginia farmland. Jim knew that economically viable farms were the best buffer against development pressure and that smart development could in turn strengthen the local food system. So in 2010, Jim and Mark joined forces to build Blue Ridge Produce, a food hub in the rural community of Elkwood.

Organic 101: Five Steps to Organic Certification

This is the eighth installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.

The USDA organic label is backed by a certification system that verifies farmers or handling facilities located anywhere in the world comply with the USDA Organic Regulations. Certification entails five steps: