Growing Methods and Certifications
Despite a shorter growing season than the warmer areas of the country, the Northeast can support a surprising variety of crops. Many of them can be grown organically, and at optimal size, flavor, and nutrient density.
USDA Certified Organic (National Organic Program): The most familiar growing certification is U.S. Department of Agriculture Certified Organic, which many of our farms have. According to the USDA, organic certification requires that farms produce food avoiding synthetic chemical inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, food additives), irradiation, and the use of sewage sludge and genetically modified seed. The farmland must be free from chemical inputs from a specified number of years. The farmers are required to keep detailed records.
Certified Naturally Grown (CNG): Another important growing method is "Certified Naturally Grown," which you will see on some of our packaging. This certification is an alternative to the USDA organic label. It is important to note that CNG is no less rigorous - however, this certification does not come through the USDA (which requires ongoing paperwork, record keeping, and labor costs). The required record keeping by the USDA is prohibitive for small farms who may only have only a couple of employees and be responsible for paperwork themselves. To be Certified Naturally Grown, a farmer must be inspected by another certified farmer, with standards that are commonly considered more stringent than USDA Organic standards. Small farms often exceed the basic requirements, and we work with many CNG farms.
Good Agricultural Practices (GAP): Another standard that you may not be aware of is GAP, which requires best practices in food handling and safety. The USDA performs audits and certifies farms according to their adherence to its recommendations for safe production and handling of fruits and vegetables. We work with several GAP certified farms.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM): For some crops, such as tree fruits, it is nearly impossible to organically produce the crop at its most beautiful. Fruit growers generally avoid selling fruits with the dark spots and bug bites on them that occur with organic methods, because consumers see them as rotten, and tend to gravitate toward pristine conventional fruits. For these crops, many farmers that we work with employ "Integrated Pest Management," or IPM, which is a multi-system method with the goal of limiting chemical control methods (but employing them when essential for saving the crop). IPM may include pinpointing a pesticide, even if it is not organic, determining that all other possible methods of control have been exhausted, and judiciously using it on affected crops. Farmers who use IPM try to limit their use of what are known as "broad spectrum" pesticides, so that they mitigate disruption to beneficial insects.