Our Organic Promise
When we started farming in 1991, organic farming made more sense than the conventional status quo. We enthusiastically jumped in and said, “Right on! How hard could this be? Our organic promise will be to farm for the health of the land and the people.”
And like true pioneers, we had no road map, no computer or Internet, and no cell phone or professional advisors, just us and the dirt. The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) had just started inspecting and certifying organic orchards for the first time a few years earlier.
We had one person at the WSU extension office in Wenatchee and a couple of friends who were also organic farmers here in Chelan. Nearly everything we learned was trial and error (and there were plenty of mistakes to learn from). As we evolved as organic farmers, we stuck it out because so did the organic program in the United States.
National Organic Certification
The organic certification came about at the national level through the 1990 U.S. Farm Bill, which included the Organic Foods Production Act. The OFPA established the USDA National Organic Program and the National Organic Standards Board.
Finally, consistent standards and a coherent vision between organic farmers and states had evolved into a unified national program. Today, the program’s standards are upheld and assessed by 80 USDA accredited certifying agents throughout the country. Most of these agents qualify to assess farmers, producers, and handlers anywhere globally in organic compliance using the organic standards defined nationally by USDA and the National Organic Program.
Washington State Organic Certification
Here in Washington State, our certifying agent is the WSDA organic program. Once certified, a farmer denotes the certifying agent either by name or a logo on his label and may choose to add the USDA organic seal. In Washington State, our certifying agent, WSDA Organic Program, has a logo with a specific design and colors representing 100% organic. The USDA organic program seal has a different design and colors.
Organic farmers want both the USDA seal and the certifying agent on their produce to set them apart from conventionally grown produce.
The benefit of both the USDA seal and representation of the certifying agent on our packaging is that we’re showing shoppers that, as farmers, we follow strict production, handling, and labeling standards as defined by the National Organic Program. We go through a rigorous organic certification process that verifies that we comply with the national organic standards. One hundred percent organic means we do not use synthetic fertilizers and chemicals, sewage, sludge, irradiation, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or genetic engineering.
One hundred percent organic means we do not use synthetic fertilizers and chemicals, sewage, sludge, irradiation, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or genetic engineering.For more information about what 100% organic means, click here
Raw products, such as our apples, cherries, and blueberries, are 100% organic, and both the USDA organic seal and certifying agent are part of our label.
Shopping for Organic
If I’m shopping for a processed food item, I’ll look for both the USDA seal and certifying agent on the label for confirmation that the food is at least 95% organic.
Processed food that claims organic status but does not have the USDA organic seal means the food may or may not have any organic ingredients. If it has at least the WSDA organic logo, I know the ingredients are at least 70% organic. If the package has neither USDA organic seal or WSDA organic logo, then I know the organic claim is entirely bogus.
As a shopper, I look for product labels that represent healthier food, better treatment of nature and people, and a safer future. My goal is to find a local, small-scale organic farm producer representing my values and providing my family with nourishing food. If the product has both the WSDA organic logo and USDA organic seal on the package, then I know I’ve found what I’m looking for.
Sometimes finding this is difficult with all of the misleading food labels used to manipulate shoppers, such as Natural, Fresh, Cage-Free, Grass-Fed, and No Antibiotics. There are no standards for these claims. As Marion Nestle says in her book, Unsavory Truth, “Health claims sell.” Like Marion, I’m not falling for all of the rhetoric, and neither should you! I urge you to stay current with legitimate food labeling. WSDA recently updated the state organic label’s design by replacing the head of George Washington with a more modern look.
It’s no easy process to earn our certifications. Our relationship with our organic certifying agent, WSDA, begins each year by submitting our application, organic system plan update, and payment for the annual fee to certify. If we do anything new or different, we submit an additional system plan.
Selling Directly to Consumers
This year we did something new. We packed and sold a portion of our total fruit harvested directly to consumers in addition to our usual wholesale model. To prepare for this change, we needed an additional system plan. After meeting some inspiring farmers last winter from Zillah, we ventured into this new territory, who told us, “YOLO (You Only Live Once)! It’s completely doable! We’ll show you how. Just do it!”
After seeing their operation, we felt inspired. The next step involved creating an additional system plan to detail our fruit packing and selling, what we planned to do, how we’d do it, and what we’d use while doing it. The plan would need to be comprehensive and accurately comply with all organic requirements because the state organic inspector uses this plan to check our operation during the summer audit.
The summer audit occurs during cherry and blueberry harvest when we’re picking and packing fruit. The inspector checks our records, the orchards, and the packing facility to confirm that we’re meeting the organic standards. The audit lasts a full day, beginning with reviewing all documentation, including a list of all the materials we’ve applied, organic certificates from suppliers, fruit sales, and yields.
If an inspector determines that a farmer has applied a prohibited material to the crops, then those crops will get kicked out of the organic program. This is a big deal because it takes three years of organic farming, called transition time, before those crops have organic status again. The approved list of materials used on organic crops changes all the time. It’s the farmer’s responsibility to keep track of the changes.
Sometimes the inspector will request records from years past. The rest of the day involves a comprehensive tour of the farm. The tour includes the following inspections in the fields and orchards: property lines, buffer zones, soil conditions, management of weeds, and other crop pests, water systems, storage areas, equipment. On occasions, the inspection can also include fruit tissue and equipment surface tests.
Later in the fall, after we’ve proven compliance in the audit, we’ll receive our organic certificate from the WSDA. The USDA organic seal watermark authenticates our official certificate verifying that we are one hundred percent organic. In addition to our farm’s name, Diamondback Acres, Inc., the document lists all of the sites we farm, the crops, and our certificate number (530). You can find us in the WSDA’s online list of the businesses they certify that are updated quarterly and include crop, product, and location information.
Significance of Certification Number
The certificate number relates to when our farm was first certified organic (in 1995) and is with us as long as we’re organically compliant. I share this detailed information with you because we believe organic food processing and certification shouldn’t be a mystery. We know you care about whether or not the food you’re bringing home to your family is truly organic.
Compliance with the organic standards isn’t always easy, but it’s a labor of love for us.
We diligently remember to consider all aspects of the system when working on the farm to promote a long-term symbiotic ecosystem. To achieve this, we stick to our organic philosophy: conserve our natural resources, care for the land to solve rather than create problems, and reduce pollution in the air, water, and soil through a partnership with nature. Even after nature has kicked our ass, we return to our organic philosophy. Like classic farmers, having an optimistic outlook and patience for delayed gratification has kept us looking ahead to the next season.
OUR ORGANIC PHILOSOPHY:
Conserve our natural resources, care for the land so that we solve rather than create problems, and reduce pollution in the air, water, and soil through a partnership with nature
We’ve been organic since 1995 because we deeply believe in organic as a way of farming and a way of life. We were 100% committed to organic then, and we’re 100% committed today.
We are held accountable by the WSDA and the USDA, undergo yearly audits, and are constantly adapting our operation to grow better food, better communities, and a better environment. You can trust the labels on our food, and you can trust our farm—that is our promise to you.
Take a virtual tour of our farm and learn about the day-to-day operation, our rich history, and plans for the future.
We have the joy of working every day with the most talented group of professionals around! Learn a bit more about what makes us tick.
Meet the Agrarian Angel herself and read her story to discover her passion for organic farming and healthy cooking.