What Makes Certified Organic Certified Organic?

images2There is perhaps no single image more synonymous with quality and integrity than the USDA organic seal. Its presence means you’re getting  a product grown without harmful chemicals, GMOs, or antibiotics. But just what does the certification process entail? What are the requirements? What makes certified organic Certified Organic?

At its most basic level, organic certification is a means of regulating and facilitating the sale of organic products. Organic certification helps discourage fraud, promote quality, and increase commerce. Through the use and implementation of a series of stringent metrics, the USDA ensures that consumers have access to high-quality, natural goods.

Some of these standards include:

  • Keeping organic products separated from non-organic ones.
  • Maintaining detailed records.
  • Ensuring farmland has not used prohibited synthetic chemicals for three years or more.
  • Avoiding synthetic chemical inputs; i.e. fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, food additives, GMOs, irradiation.
  • Preventing the use of human sewage sludge fertilizer in the cultivation of plant or animal-feed.
  • Preserve natural resources and biodiversity.
  • Support animal health and welfare.

Qualifying for organic certification is an in-depth process that can span three years or more. A grower must first obtain an application through an accredited National Organic Program (NOP) agent. Once the application is reviewed and approved, the agent will schedule an inspection. The inspector assesses the farm’s condition, verifying the grower’s compliance with USDA organic regulations. Next, the inspector will write a report, either approving or denying the grower’s application. If approved, the grower need only pay the requisite fee before he/she can begin using the Certified Organic seal.

images 3Organic certification is not only a great way of protecting the ecosystem, it’s also an excellent way of building trust between growers and consumers. And that’s what makes organic certification organic certification!

 

By | August 29th, 2014|News|0 Comments

The Scoop on Potatoes

Blue Moon's Fingerling Potatoes

Blue Moon’s Fingerling Potatoes

What is a potato?

A potato is a vegetable. It is part of the nightshade family of plants (along with tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. The potato is actually the swollen portion of the underground root, called a tuber. The tuber serves to provide food for the leafy green (above-ground) part of the plant. If allowed to turn to flower and fruit, the potato plant will bear an inedible fruit resembling a tomato.

Source: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=48
What is the history of the potato?

The potato was first cultivated by the Inca Indians in South America, way back around 7,000 BCE. After the Spanish Conquistadors discovered Peru in 1536, they brought the tuber back to Spain. Families of Basque sailors began to grow potatoes along the coast of northern Spain by the end of that century. It was in 1589 that Sir Walter Raleigh introduced potatoes to Ireland, with the cultivation of 40,000 acres in County Cork.

The Irish potato famine was the result of a potato blight in the 1840’s; a plant disease that destroyed most of the potato crop throughout Europe. As the Irish working class subsisted mainly on potatoes, they were greatly affected by the potato blight. Almost one million people died from starvation or disease over the course of the famine, and another one million emigrated out of Ireland.

Health Facts:

Potatoes are high in carbohydrates and Vitamin C. They have more potassium than bananas, spinach, or broccoli. Only about 20% of the potato’s nutrition (mostly the fiber) is found in the skin. Most of the Vitamin C and potassium are in the flesh.

Uses of potatoes:

– Potatoes are used to brew alcoholic beverages like vodka
– Potato starch is used as a thickener and binder in soups and sauces, and as an adhesive in the textile industry
– Potatoes are commonly used in cooking (of course!). They’re often prepared mashed, roasted, fried, or in pancakes.

By | August 22nd, 2014|News|0 Comments

All About Soil Testing!

comparative-handscomparative-handscomparative-handslawn-soil-testTo test, or not to test—that is the question. Whether t’is nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of poor soil, or to have that soil tested, and, by amending its components, have a healthier garden. Soil tests were unavailable in Shakespeare’s day, but we in the modern age have no such excuse. Testing your soil is an easy, cost-efficient process whose benefits can yield tremendous results.

Before rushing out to your home and garden center, however, you’ll want to do a few simple tests on your own. First of which: determine your soil’s texture and profile. Soils are either clay-, sand-, or loam-based. Clay soils are nutrient-rich but poor-draining, sandy soils have excellent drainage but little nutrition, and loamy soils are just right—good nutrition and drainage. But while loamy soil is generally ideal, certain plants prefer more sandy or clayey soils. Plus, poor drainage can be the death of certain plants, so make sure you’re striking the right balance.

You’ll also want to conduct an ‘earthworm census’. Being as they are indicators of soil health, earthworms are something you want to see a lot of. Take a 1 by 1 cylindrical cross sample of your soil, and sift through it. Ten worms or more means you’ve got healthy soil. Less than that means your soil is either lacking in organic matter or is too acidic or alkaline.

Speaking of acidity and alkalinity: checking your soil’s Ph level is yet another crucial step to take. Because most plants prefer a neutral Ph (around 6 or 7 on a scale of 0 to 14), you’ll want to make sure your soil is neither too acidic nor too alkaline. Now’s the time to head to the home and garden center. You can get a PH test kit for as little as $4. If your soil turns out too acidic, you’ll want to add lime; if it’s too alkaline; you’ll want to add sulfur.

imagesIf you’ve done the above and are still struggling, take a sample of your soil to a local cooperative or lab to have it analyzed. Labs typically formulate their recommendations towards farmers, so be sure to remind them that you’re a gardener. They can test for phosphorous, potassium, calcium, sulfur, and magnesium levels. (Nitrogen is not usually tested because the content in your soil can change dramatically and quickly). Zinc, iron, copper, and other micronutrient levels can also be tested.

So what are you waiting for? Grab yourself a trowel and get testing!

By | August 15th, 2014|News|0 Comments

3 Ways to Make Use of an Abundance of Tomatoes

Hello, tomato.

tomatoes plum

So wonderful to see you again.

Such taste, such loveliness, such flavor… tis’ the season of Jersey-grown tomatoes.

As a tomato lover, I sometimes find myself thinking with my eyes, and come home with more tomatoes than I can possibly consume. What’s a girl to do?

3 Ways to Make Use of an Abundance of Tomatoes

1. Give them away.

I know it may be difficult to give away such perfections of nature, but share the tomato love and give some away. Do you have friends who say they don’t like tomatoes (gasp!)? Gift them with a local tomato in season, at its peak ripeness, and watch them change their tune.

2. Roast them.

If you have less-than-pristine tomatoes, try roasting them in the oven to coax out their flavor. Eat them after roasting, or freeze them to enjoy year-round- roasting concentrates the flavor, so they’ll taste great. David Lebovitz has an excellent recipe here.

3. Can them.

Canning tomatoes sounds intimidating. I am new to canning myself- this summer will be the first time I’m putting up foods for the fall. Canning tomatoes is a big messy endeavor, so make sure you have the help and space you need before you dive in. It’s important to note as well that improperly canned tomatoes can cause botulism, a deadly poisoning. Follow the current USDA guidelines to keep you and your family safe. Mother Earth News has a helpful article on how to can tomatoes at home safely here.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy an abundant tomato harvest?

By | August 8th, 2014|News, Uncategorized|0 Comments

GMOs: A Refresher Course

imagesIf you’re like me, your knowledge of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) is a little less-than total. You know that they’re unsafe, that they’re Monsanto’s bread and butter, that they’re harmful for the environment. But you could probably use a refresher course. Well, you’re in luck. Because today’s blog is just that.

According to Wikipedia, a GMO is “an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques.” Through gene splicing, DNA from different species are merged, creating new versions of plant, animal, bacterial, and viral genes that wouldn’t otherwise occur in nature. While natural selection, domestication, and controlled breeding are also forms of genetic modification, they do not involve splicing.

Transgenic breeding—inserting or manipulating a plant’s gene structure—gives the grower the ability to improve pest or disease resistance, or tolerance to heat, cold or drought. Desirable characteristics of one species are inserted, on a genetic level, into another species. Proponents claim that this is merely an extension of what farmers have always done: generate better, more resilient crops. But selecting traits over many generations is infinitely different than manipulating a plant’s genetic makeup. Indeed, such manipulations, critics claim, are creating a host of new health and environmental problems.

For instance, there is growing concern that consuming GMO-related foods can cause cancer and/or allergies. Since GMOs’ approval in the early 90s, there has been a significant rise in asthma, ADHD, allergies, and many forms of cancer. This spate of disease can be traced, critics claim to ‘leaky gut syndrome’ (LGS). LGS is the development of gaps between the cells that make up the inner lining of our intestinal tract, allowing unwanted substances into the bloodstream. But that’s not all: A study published in the Food & Chemical Toxicology Journal showed that rats fed a diet of genetically modified corn developed tumors, organ damage, and premature death. GMOs are also linked to low birth weight, infertility, and infant mortality. In fact, it is now believed that GMOs have the potential to produce toxic proteins long after we’ve stopped consuming them.

Equally disconcerting are the environmental impacts. Pesticides and herbicides that use GMO agents have been shown to have devastating impacts on livestock communities, as well as beneficial insects like bees and butterflies. Pests can adapt to these pesticides and herbicides, making them resistant. Errant GMOs can wreak havoc on delicate, natural ecosystems, overrunning native vegetation and the insect and animal life dependent thereon. Because the cultivation of GMOs necessarily results in fewer flowers, there is less nectar for pollinators. Their toxins leech into the soil and diminish bacterial levels, before being swept into streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans, putting an even broader cross-section of natural habitat at risk.

No matter how you look at it, GMOs are very much an experiment, and we are its guinea pigs. It took nature hundreds of millions of years to generate the food-cycle system we now take for granted. Perhaps we would be wiser working within the confines of that system, rather than trying to ‘perfect’ it.

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By | August 1st, 2014|News|0 Comments

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