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Interest in organic farming grows

Nationally, the there were about 17,600 organic farms and processing facilities at the end of 2011, a 240 percent increase since the USDA's tracking program began in 2002.
BY JENNIFER PALMER Published: April 8, 2012

For organic producer Susan Graff, the daily grind is performed far from a cubicle.

At Crestview Farms, her family's 26-acre operation in Arcadia, she tends daily to so many different crops, it's hard to keep count. Tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, carrots, turnips, onions, leeks and garlic peek from the earth in various stages of growth, a greenhouse is filled with dozens of varieties of herbs and salad greens and an orchard shows promise of grapes, pears, peaches and apples as the weather warms.

Her office mates are a trio of dogs — Bandit, Lotto and Nick — a couple of farm cats, and her most diligent workers: ladybugs. The red and black spotted critters eat the aphids that threaten her crops and are a natural form of pest control.

On a recent morning, Graff gave The Oklahoman a tour of her farm. As a wasp buzzed overhead in the greenhouse, she was not worried.

“It's ok. They eat caterpillars,” she said.

Crestview Farms is one of about 75 Oklahoma operations certified organic by the U.S. Agriculture Department. Each undergoes a rigorous initial inspection, including a site visit and soil testing, and must be recertified annually.

Interest in the program has grown dramatically, said Bryan Buchwald, section director for the state Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, which became accredited through the USDA to perform organic certifications in 2002.

In the summer of 2003, there were about 10 Oklahoma operations certified. Now, the department has given a seal of approval to more than 125 (some carry multiple certificates, which is why the state count is higher than the USDA's).

Nationwide, organic farming also is growing. At the end of 2011, there were 17,673 organic farms and processing facilities — 478 more than at the end of 2010 and a 240 percent increase since the USDA's National Organic Program began overseeing organic operators in 2002. Worldwide, there are now 28,779 certified organic producers in 133 countries.

The national database is updated annually and the most recent version was released March 23. But the USDA says it is working to develop a system that will allow more frequent updates and ultimately, provide information in real time.

Oklahoma's organic producers include vegetable and herb growers, cattle ranchers, coffee bean roasters, egg producers and pecan farmers. Even The Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture, an educational center in Poteau, is now certified — in part to better educate their farmers and ranchers on the process.

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The USDA's database of certified organic operations:

OMRI, for products approved for organic farming:

Crestview Farms, which operates a CSA and sells through the Oklahoma Food Cooperative and local farmer's markets:

The Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture, an educational nonprofit foundation in Poteau:

What this symbol means

Organic is a labeling term that indicates the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation and genetic engineering may not be used.

Source: USDA


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