The only legal way that products can be called organic is to be certified by the USDA label. We believe in the concept and are pleased that it has been defined so that consumers can have confidence in organic labels. We are aware of organic requirements and have contact with organic growers. There are organic growers in this area, but they tend to emphasize crops which are easier to grow organically and their season is shorter than ours.
So, why have we chosen not to pursue organic certification? Frankly, we don’t think that, at this time, the technology exists to enable us to profitably produce the crops that we want to grow (and you want to eat!) in the subtropical climate of south Florida. Most other vegetable production regions have a cold or dry period during which many plants are dead or dormant. This greatly slows insect and disease reproduction. Here we rarely have that period, so our insect, disease, and weed populations are year-round. New pest problems are constantly appearing - often 1 new pest per month in Florida? Newly introduced insects often do not have natural enemies here. And they can vector virus diseases which can totally wipe out some crops.
The dynamics of tropical soils are also very different from those in temperate climates. Microbiological processes proceed very rapidly, making it difficult to build up organic matter and nutrients in the soil using the methods used in temperate climates. We do produce and use our own compost from locally generated horse manure, and we supplement it with some synthetic fertilizers.
Rather than being certified organic, we are working towards sustainability of our operation. In order to truly be sustainable, there are three important aspects that must be fulfilled:
1. Environmental compatibility. We base our management decisions on the environment effects by trying to look at the whole picture. For instance, organic farmers usually control weeds by cultivation, but perhaps it is better for the environment to spray once with a low-toxicity herbicide than to use the fuel and emit the chemicals that result from several trips through the field with a plow or cultivator? Perhaps it is better for the environment to eat produce that is produced locally, even with some pesticides, rather than have organic produce shipped thousands of miles? Environmental compatibility also means using compost made from locally produced materials which otherwise would be wasted, such as yard trimmings and manures. These types of organic materials can add nutrients and improve the microorganism population of the soil. Our pest control program involves prevention of problems by crop rotations and other cultural management and constant monitoring of pest populations. We do use pesticides, most of which are newer types which are more specific to the target insect or diseases and break down in the environment much faster than the older pesticides did.
2. Social responsibility. Our employees are permanent and full time workers. We do our best to treat them honestly, respectfully, and fairly. Although most would be considered unskilled workers, the skills they have developed are critical to this business. We also try to be good citizens of the community, participating in organizations such as Slow Food, donating produce to local Food Banks, and working together with other small farms in the area to help all of us to supply food to local citizens.
3. Profitability. This is important since a business must be profitable in order to survive. Unlike most small farms, which are located in rural areas, we are lucky to be farming in an area where enough people are willing to "put their money where their mouth is"! We appreciate that many people are willing to pay more for their food when they know where and how it is grown.
We also work with researchers at universities and USDA on projects that work towards sustainability. These include studying details such as soil microbiology, insect and weed populations, improved production methods, and testing new vegetable varieties which have resistance to diseases.