We try to be accurate and honest with you all about the veggies we offer from Gopher Knoll and this question is pretty frequent.
Sometimes the words “organic” and “heirloom” are misused or not fully understood. The word “organic” really becomes an important issue because we’ve come to rely on it to mean that our food is healthy and grown in a sustainable and natural way.
In 1990 (or thereabouts), the United States Dept of Agriculture began to define an “organic” standard for crops grown under specific conditions. Those conditions include avoiding synthetic chemicals as fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide or fungicides. It defines specifically what options are acceptable for fertilization, pest control and the handling of produce all the way to the consumer. It also prohibits inclusion of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) and generally it requires use of seed stock from certified organic farms. However, non-organic seeds that have not been treated with unacceptable synthetic chemicals may be used when organic versions are not available. Organic certification is a long (two to three year) and expensive process, includes extensive record keeping and ongoing inspections of the farm by the certifying organization.
Many small farms use these same healthy and sustainable methods, but have not been through the process of certification.
Gopher Knoll is not certified as “organic” and therefore we are not legally permitted to use that word to describe our operation, even though our growing methods are more stringent than those required by USDA certification. Instead, we have used words like “naturally grown” and “chemical-free”, which accurately describe how we grow our vegetables.
The reality is that many (probably most) heirloom plants have never been ‘certified’ by anyone. They are not grown on large monoculture industrial farms. They have been grown from seed passed down from generation to generation in families and small communities. They often have extraordinary flavors and other characteristics that set them apart as healthy culinary treasures. The goal of the garden at Gopher Knoll has been to maintain and pass along some of this historic and extraordinary seed stock so that this diversity is not lost from our food supply.
One of our favorite seed suppliers has been Baker Creek Farms in Missouri. Baker Creek specializes in providing heirloom vegetable, herb and flower seeds from around the world. They are a well-respected, family owned enterprise and uphold the values we support in the way they grow and maintain their seed stock. You can read their own statements concerning the handling of their seed stock here. We believe in them and will continue to buy much of our heirloom seed from them. However, their farm, like ours, is not certified as ‘organic’.
When you and I buy vegetables from a grocery store, the only information we have as to how our vegetables were grown, what chemicals might have been used on them or that they are not genetically modified is by looking for that “Organic” seal of approval. I understand this and appreciate that it exists. It is the only label we can read that offers any assurance. But many farmers and suppliers are out there who are using good quality, natural techniques for producing healthy food who have not jumped through the hoops (and paid the price) for certification.
Your assurance about how vegetables are grown at Gopher Knoll relies on your trust in our word. We welcome visits to the garden (just call and ask about a time to come see it for yourself.) If you have questions about our seed stock and sources, how we manage fertilization or pests, feel free to post a comment here on the website or send me an email at [email protected]
I also frequently lead gardening workshops in coordination with Master Gardeners, different garden clubs and Athens Organic Supply to talk about exactly how we deal with some of the challenges of farming using organic methods. The workshops are open to the public and free of charge.
The East Texas Daylily Society has invited me to talk about Soil and using soil amendments at their meeting this coming Sunday, March 9. It will be held at the Rose Garden in Tyler at 2:00 p.m.
I’ll also be doing a workshop about growing heirloom vegetables at Athens Organic Supply on Saturday, March 22 at
2:00 pm. 1:00 PM (sorry I got that wrong last week!)
And, Gopher Knoll will be back at Athens Farmer’s Market with fresh spring produce on Saturday, April 5. We appreciate our customers and always want to bring you only fresh, healthy, naturally grown veggies!
Hope to see you soon!