As we toured the Production Garden with Adam Shaikh the Market Gardener of Linnaea Farm, we were treated to exemplary permaculture designs in action. With meticulous records to back him up, Adam walked us through the garden from veggie starts in the greenhouse to the full crop rotation system occurring throughout the acre already buzzing with bees, humans, and birds of all kinds.
But something lurked beneath this idyllic scene. Adam spoke of the difficulties with obtaining and maintaining organic certification recognized through a governing body, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
The CFIA operates legislation enacted in 2009 to monitor and enforce Organic Products Regulations. The CFIA accredits (for-profit) certification bodies who have the power to classify products as organic or otherwise.
No longer a trust-based agreement, the organic certification grew to be overseen by higher governing bodies, while the gap between farmer and consumer has also grown steadily.
Supply and demand means even massive retailers such as Walmart have brought in organic produce. Customers are willing to pay more for organic groceries, meaning this is big business in action. Agriculture is a massive industry, but organic sales in Canada alone were almost $3 billion dollars in 2012, reaching almost $US 63 billion globally in 2011. Consumer demands are growing, and some predict the desire for an organic industry may overpower what certified organic growers can produce. People generally believe, often without merit, that organic food is higher in safety, nutrition, and health benefits. Of course there are many real benefits to eating organic, but on a multinational scale is when things go awry. This can lead to profitable corporations manipulating consumers through the lobbying the regulatory process and taking advantage of legal loopholes (such as when tap water was certified organic by the USDA).
What does this mean for small-scale farmers? To certify your farm as organic necessitates an increase in annual expenses, paperwork and all the bureaucracy involved with a third-party determining you’re worthy of an organic designation. And yet often organic certification lacks robust testing to ensure complete lack of pesticides in products that have paid the hefty premium to be included in the exclusive organic club.
Market gardeners such as Adam have resorted to relying on their unique name brand rather than following an overarching governing body who determines the qualifications across a massive industry in an even larger country. “People know Linnaea Farm produce” says Adam. Linnaea Farm has a well-deserved reputation which helps sell their products throughout the year at both local markets and through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, valuable sources of income for the resident stewards of the land. This method of growing local economies works to strengthen food security and engage relationships between farmers and consumers that can be lost in the growing demands for year-round produce regardless of season.