“Hold on a second — there’s a chicken under my desk,” said Susan Keymer, owner of Merrick Farm in Howell.
A typical day in the office does not involve unexpected poultry, but for an organic farmer, it’s just another day on the job.
What does it mean when products are labelled as organic?
In the early 1990s, when Keymer started growing certified organic fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers, farms like hers were few and far between. Today, organic produce is available in chain supermarkets everywhere, such as Whole Foods Market, which carries hundreds of organic items. But what exactly is this growing phenomenon?
Michael Sinatra, spokesman for Whole Foods Markets, explained the concept of organic produce.
“Organic refers to the way food is grown, raised and processed,” Sinatra said.
According to Sinatra, no unnatural additives or fertilizers are used in organic fruits and vegetables. In addition, organic farmers emphasize the use of renewable resources and conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has regulations and guidelines for labeling organic products.
“We were originally certified organic by the Northeast Organic Farming Association, which had the strictest standards next to California,” Keymer said. “Then the government started certifying, and they check on the farm once a year to ensure that it meets USDA standards.”
According to its website, the USDA has three catergories for labeling organic products: 100 percent organic, made with 100 percent organic ingredients; Organic, made with at least 95 percent organic ingredients; and Made with Organic Ingredients, or made with a minimun of 70 percent organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining percent including no generally modified organisms. Products with less than 70 percent organic ingredients may list organically produced ingredients on the side panel of the package but may not make any organic claims on the front of the package.
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