Answering Your Questions About “Organic”

Everett by Everett | November 11th, 2008 | 4 Comments
topic: Green Living, Health & Wellness

USDA Certified Organic Logo

This post marks the start of a mini-series of posts in which we will choose a different topic and answer commonly-asked questions about it.

Obviously one can’t know everything about everything so the idea is to do some of the research for you and provide links to sites that can answer these questions in more depth.

What is organic? What does Organic mean?
What is organic farming?
What is organic food?
Why is organic food good for you?
What are organic compounds?
Where can I buy organic fertilizers?
How to sprout organic seeds
Where can I buy organic meat?
How to start an organic farm
How to raise organic beef

Our first topic keyword is “Organic”

#1 – What is organic? What does Organic mean?
These are two different versions of the most-asked question about “organic”. In a broad sense, “organic” simply means that it is made from animal or vegetable compounds. In the stricter sense that many of us have come to expect, organic means that only animal or vegetable materials were used in the making of the product from start to finish. That includes the absence of synthetic chemicals and materials, such as non-organic fertilizers used in food production or man-made fibers like polyester. When food is labeled as “organic” in the United States it must comply with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic Food Products Act. Note, this is not always the same thing as “natural” which isn’t covered in The Act.

#2 – What is organic farming?
Organic farming seeks to produce food without the use of synthetic materials like pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. The USDA Consumer Brochure Organic Food Standards and Labels: The Facts also includes certain processes used by non-organic farmers, such as bioengineering and irradiation as processes that organic farmers should avoid.

#3 – What is organic food?
Partially answered in Q&A #1 above, a more detailed description of organic food is given by the USDA, which states:

“Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.

Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.

#4 – Why is organic food good for you?
What may seem like a silly question to some people is actually more difficult to answer than you would think because “organic” is not the same thing as “healthy.” There are plenty of organic foods that are NOT good for you. Organic ice cream, for instance, wouldn’t be considered “good for you” by most doctors – at least not as a daily component to your diet. All things being equal, however, organic food is better for you because it does not contain leftover traces of chemicals from pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, chemical fertilizers, hormones and antibiotics, which have been associated with several health issues ranging from an increased risk of cancer to endocrine system disruption.

According to the National Dairy Council’s website: “Organic dairy foods must additionally meet the requirements of USDA’s National Organic Program. This includes using only organic fertilizers and pesticides, and not using rbST. Dairy foods can be labeled “USDA Organic” only if all of the additional criteria are met.” Organic food may be better for you than non-organic food, but saying that organic foods are “good for you” ignores the possibility that some forms of organic fertilizers or pest control can also have negative health effects.

#5 – What are organic compounds?
Organic compounds — those studied in the field of science known as “organic chemistry” — are combinations of two or more elements that contain at least one part carbon. Contrary to popular belief, organic compounds CAN be produced synthetically, as was proved when Friedrich Wohler first synthesized Urea, an organic compound containing potassium cyanate and ammonium sulfate. This brings us back again to the point that “natural” is not necessarily the same as “organic.”

#6 – Where can I buy organic fertilizers?
The Planet Natural website is a good place to start if you want to buy organic fertilizers, but the best organic fertilizer you can use doesn’t cost a dime – compost.

#7 – How to sprout organic seeds?
Sprouting organic seeds isn’t much different than sprouting any other type of seed. Chemical fertilizers shouldn’t be required either way since the energy used in sprouting comes from the seed itself. Common organic seeds to sprout include alfalfa, peas, fenugreek, radish, red clover, garbanzos, broccoli and cabbage. Certified organic seeds can be purchased here. Instructions on seed sprouting can be found here.

#8 – Where can I purchase organic meat?
There are hundreds of farms in the United States and Canada that produce organic meat, including seafood, poultry, pork and beef. In addition to being organic, many of these farms offer free-range, grass-fed meats as well. The best place to buy organic meat is usually the closest, providing they meet organic certification standards.

When the farm is far away from your stove the meat is either processed near the farm, in which case it isn’t as fresh, or the live animals are shipped to a processing station closer to you, in which case undue stress is placed on the animal during travel. Either way, the carbon footprint caused by that purchase is much larger than it would have been had you bought locally. A good place to start your search is the Organic Meat listings on the Green People website.

#9 – How to start an organic farm?
The demand for organically grown food has skyrocketed in recent years with the introduction of healthier grocery stores and worries over health effects associated with pesticides, chemical fertilizers, antibiotics and hormones in the food supply. This makes organic farming an attractive business opportunity for both new and experienced farmers.

One of the best places on the web to get started in your search for information about starting an organic farm is the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service’s website, which has a special section called So You Want to Start a Farm? Resources for the Beginning Farmer. Another great resource is the Organic Trade Association, which is a member-based business association that focuses on the organic business community in North America, and whose goals are “to promote and protect the growth of organic trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public and the economy.” The details of getting certified as an organic farm and getting your business started would take up more space than this entire blog entry / article. However, the two links above should serve as solid launching pads for your research.

#10 – How to raise organic beef?
To raise organic beef you will have to stop using the chemicals, hormones and antibiotics used in conventional beef farming, and ensure that the feed used is organic as well. That includes having an organic pasture and purchasing organic feed and dietary supplements. Your first point of contact, aside from any neighbors or friends you may have in the organic beef industry, should be your local certification agent. Find your local agent by visiting the USDA National Organic Program website here and searching their database of agents. The National Organic Program (NOP) develops, implements, and administers national production, handling, and labeling standards for organic agricultural products.

For more answers to your “organic” questions, try some of these articles from Gaiam Life:

USDA Organic: Behind the Label
Making Sense of Food Labels
Why Organics Are Better for Your Health
More Ganics: Get More Organics in Your Diet
Five Ways to Save Money on Organic Food
How “Eco” is Organic Cotton: The Facts on Seven Questions
Organic Gardening 101


  1. we have a small farm that we are trying to keep as green as possible, good water usage, solar power, market gardens etc… We come across a lot of people that dismiss us because we are not organic, but we are as close to organic as is financially possible for such a small place. Search google for Howtogogreen for pictures of the place.

    william Engel | November 11th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  2. I see that you are building a guest cottage to rent out. You should go to and add your farm to the list of agritourism destinations.

    Back To The Earth | November 11th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  3. I’m writing a paper on organic produce and was wondering:

    What are some health benefits of eating organic?

    What will the environment all benefit if we all grow organic?

    Is organic farming becomming more popular?


    Kelsey S | November 30th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  4. Hi
    Could you tell me the certification agent in new york state and how best to contact him/her ?
    thank you

    kevin tierney | December 2nd, 2008 | Comment Permalink

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