This is a question we're frequently asked, and we must respond: "No, we are not certified organic. But we follow organic practices in the garden. We don't use pesticides or herbicides." And then we go on to explain how the livestock are raised and cared for.
I've come to understand that in many peoples' minds, "organic" has become a shorthand term for a whole host of other issues. Today's New York Times had an illustrative piece about how Whole Foods, though "organic," has strayed from some of the values that originally attracted many of its customers. As one Whole Foods customer put it:
“Produce is no longer consistently good,” Ms. Coleman said. “I can no longer count on it. Because I feel I pay more there I really expect it to be as good as a farmer’s market but sometimes it’s mushy, sometimes it’s old and sometimes it’s good. I think I use organic as proxy for a bunch of other things, like locally grown and fresher, but I’m just beginning to find out I really need to go to farmers’ markets if I want these things. I only go to Whole Foods when I can’t find a product anywhere else.”
Our livestock do not eat certified organic feed. Such feed is nearly impossible to get around here, and we believe that buying locally-raised (albeit conventionally-farmed) grain through a local independent feed store that custom mixes it, is also something to value. We do not use any feed laced with antibiotics or growth hormones. Most of all, we believe that raising animals on pasture and free range adds much greater value than feeding certified organic feed to an animal kept in confinement.
"Your eggs taste so much better than the organic eggs from the store," many customers have told us. "Even better than the ones marked 'cage free'." I explain that as we understand it, "organic" eggs have simply come from hens fed organic feed; there is no requirement for such hens to ever see the light of day. And, as I understand it, "cage free" simply means the hens run around inside a large building or shed. Again, there is no guarantee such chickens are seeing the light of day.
Even with this explanation, some customers will not buy our livestock or eggs; for such people, "organic" seems almost like a religion. That is unfortunate, but we have no trouble selling out all of our products to others. I just wish that such folks would think a bit more about whether "organic" is truly the highest value, or if "locally produced" and "free range" might be even more important.