What it takes
The cost of organic certification is $200-500, depending on how many acres an operator uses, and some producers qualify for partial reimbursement through a USDA cost hare program.
The initial application is about 12 pages and on-site inspection lasts about three to four hours, Buchwald said. Inspectors test the soil and check the property for chemical fertilizers and pesticides; producers can't have used prohibited chemicals in at least three years.
From application to certification, the process takes about 45 days.
While producers can grow organically without the certification, it's advantageous to market their products as certified organic, he added.
Michael Hall, a cattle rancher in Sweetwater, near the Texas Panhandle, has gained organic certification for his hay and is working through the “meticulous process” of certifying his beef.
He started raising cattle in the late 1970s and began to go organic to have a healthier product. But it's not easy, he says. When weeds are growing, it would be easier to call someone to spray the field with weed killer instead of cutting them before they go to seed.
“I've never liked herbicides. I'm not pure — I will spray my yard. But as far as what I eat, I really want it to be healthy,” Hall said.
At Crestview Farms, Graff will use fish emulsion and kelp-based fertilizers. Both are approved by the Organic Materials Review Institute, an agency that sets the standard for products used in organic farming. And controlling the weeds is done with a basic garden hoe.
Because of the organic process she uses, Graff won't hesitate to snack straight from the garden. And it has helped her build a client base, too.
“Now, people come to me because I am organic. They want the best for their children and themselves,” she said.
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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.