It's a common question. Sitting out on the deck of the winery building, looking out over acres of lovingly-tended vineyard, soaking up the ambiance (and a bit of Montoliva wine), I'm often asked, "are you certified organic?".
Hoo Boy, want to get me wound up? Ask me about "organic" farming.
I am not "certified" organic. I've never been certified organic. I'll never be certified organic. The simple fact is, certification for organic practices means nothing. Literally, figuratively, every other "ly" you want to try. Organic certification means Absolutely Nothing. That extra buck-fifty you pay for the asparagus that has the little orange sticker on it that says "certified organic"...yeah, might as well buy the produce from the bargain bin, and get yourself a Snickers bar with the savings, it may return the same health benefits as that "organic" asparagus.
I know what you are thinking, "Mark, you can get pretty, how should I put it...'lyrical' about stuff. Is this just a little bit hyperbolic?" Alas, it is not.
In 2011 one of California's largest producers of "organic" fertilizer (certified by the OMRI) was caught out. It was determined that for nearly 10 years there had been pretty much nothing organic about this fertilizer. This was fertilizer used by about 30% of California's organic farming industry. Yeah, that's pretty bad. However, in my mind's eye, this wasn't the scandal. The scandal is that the OMRI decided to allow all those farms who used this artificial nitrogen to keep their organic certifications (and continue to pay the OMRI the hefty fees associated with getting/keeping certification). Now look, I really do feel for all of my fellow farmers who were/are trying to do the right thing, and paying big bucks in the process. However, I have yet to see a certification label in Safeway that says "Good Intentioned Organic". Either it is organically grown, or it isn't. Why spend the extra $1.50 when you can't trust the label? Why spend the thousands of dollars annually for certification if it doesn't actually mean anything?
So, now you may be thinking, well jeez Mark, that was ten years ago, lighten up, let it go, and go get that certification!
Many of you know that while I am not "certified", I do practice organic farming in my vineyard, both good-intentionally and otherwise. I use stylet oil to control leafhoppers. I compost all of our pressings from harvest back in to the vineyard. Powdery Mildew is controlled using sulfur and Kaligreen. I use products that are "certified" organic, and hope for the best.
It turns out that "hope for the best" is the best I can do. A couple of years ago I started using a product for weed control that was certified organic and was getting rave reviews among farmers. I've tried other products that used clove oil etc. as the active ingredient; mix it with a little vinegar...they did ok, good enough, I guess. Weedslayer though was the magic bullet! I loved how nice and clean the area underneath the vines looked. It pleased me aesthetically, and it helped keep unwanted weed and grass growth from getting up in the fruit zone. Yes, I'm sure you can guess "the rest of the story". In December of last year the Oregon Department of Agriculture released analytical results of the active ingredients of Weedslayer. Jeez, they weren't content with using just a single artificial herbicide. Weedslayer contained both glyphosate AND Diquat. No wonder it worked so well. And as with the fertilizer scandal of a decade ago, as long as you pony up the money, certifications for everyone! Frankly, at this point I'm surprised Monsanto hasn't applied for certification.
What is a good-intentioned farmer to do? I know a lot of farmers from all walks of agriculture who wake up every morning and try to do the right thing by their land, their families, their crops and their customers. What do they all have in common, besides doing the best they can to provide a clean, sustainable product? None of them sell what they grow in Safeway. Or Raleys. Or any of the other big chain grocers. And few of them can afford the thousands of dollars annually to get, and stay "certified" organic. Almost all of them earn their living by selling what they grow directly to you, and/or directly to the local grocer, be it the Briar Patch or SPD Market (our locally owned/operated markets).
What is a good-intentioned consumer to do? Next time you visit us at Montoliva Vineyard and Winery, don't ask me if I'm "certified". Ask me what I'm doing to be a good steward to my vineyard. Ask me how I deal with the Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter. Ok, that's an easy one, we don't have them up here at this elevation. And don't hesitate to ask me to stop pontificating, and pour the wine I'm holding in my hand ;)