Monday, September 23, 2013

Week 21, If It's Not Certified, It's Not Organic

We submitted our annual paperwork to continue offering you organic fruits, vegetables, and meats. The rigorous process of declaring the practices, processes, and products we use to produce organic food is precisely the reason we are sensitive to claims, like natural, unsprayed, chemical free or one of the other pseudo-organic claims in the marketplace. It is worth explaining not just the process, but just how much is behind the USDA Organic seal.  

Years ago, we were certified organic by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) to a standard set by them. At that time, each state or region had its own version of what organic meant.  Leaders of the organic movement sought a uniform definition for clarity in the marketplace, and the USDA adopted a single standard that was developed by the organic community. The USDA accredits certification agencies (ACA) to administer the regulations on their behalf, of which there are 53 agencies in the US, and 29 others around the world. The USDA is also responsible for enforcement, marketing, and further refinement of the standards. The Secretary of the USDA appoints 15 people to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), to advise him of issues around the production and marketing of organic products. These folks are representative of consumer groups, farmers, processors, environmentalists, food scientists, and the accredited certification agencies. Currently Mac is in his third year, of a 5-year term, as the representative for certifying agents, since he used to manage the KDA organic program. The NOSB is in charge of maintaining input from all aspects of the organic community and act as an administrative body for the federal program. As you can see, there is a tremendous degree of oversight behind the label or seal you see on packaging and signage.

Every year, we submit our organic system plan (OSP) to an ACA. The forty plus pages allows us to describe how we at Elmwood Stock Farm have interpreted the regulations and plan to produce food for you. The national standards require very specific details of how we will not allow any contamination of the products we deliver, therefore we must keep meticulous records on virtually every aspect of the operation. Our plan is reviewed for completeness of outlining procedures to promote biodiversity, manage issues with the neighbors, seed source compliance (No GMO or nasty seed coatings), pest control practices, animal welfare, and the like. Often there are more pages of attachments than in the form itself. The ACA then sends an inspector out to visually verify that our plan accurately describes the operation and we have not missed any aspect of compliance with the regulation. The inspector will perform various audit trail evaluations to confirm compliance. For example the yield of tomatoes must match the number of seeds purchased and the greenhouse production records to show we did not substitute non-organic tomatoes sourced elsewhere, and call them organic. The volume of hay or feed must jive with the livestock production data. The inspector then submits their report to the ACA for further review. We are then issued an updated organic certificate, with a detailed crops list to document our compliance. We may have seen it hanging up when you were here at the spring farm tour, or posted at our table at the farmers market.  We will gladly show it to you, as we are very proud of it, and all it stands for. 

Mac is currently Chair of the NOSB, which is an honor to be selected by his peers for the top spot, but with it comes a lot of responsibility. The growth of the organic food sector continues to grow at 20% annually, now estimated at $35 billion per year. With the growth comes more political scrutiny, more pressure from special interest groups, and demands on resources to manage this growth. The NOSB will have its fall meeting in Louisville at the Galt House Hotel, the week of October 21st. We look forward to showing the leaders of the organic community some good Kentucky hospitality while hammering out some tough issues. Mac is the lead author and project manager for what is being called “Sound and Sensible Certification”. This is an effort designed to take some of the onerous aspects of paperwork and document-ation out of the certification process, for farmers and the ACAs. It is hoped this will encourage others to adopt and adhere to the organic principles of organics. The board will also be evaluating retail establishment certification protocols, to further ensure the integrity of the products on your behalf. You can google ‘NOSB fall meeting’ to see all the proposals and recommendations and how you can submit written comments and/or sign up for public testimony. With so much transparency behind the decisions about what is organic, along with so much integrity behind the certification process itself, along with all of the work a producer does to maintain their organic status, you may better understand why it’s just not the same when people equate local with organic. The USDA can impose an $11,000 fine on people who misrepresent themselves as organic if they are not. If you suspect fraud, we encourage you to let the USDA-NOP or KDA know about it. 

Over the season, we’ve shared a lot about the biological systems employed to produce your food without toxic chemicals.  You’ve learned about microbes, soils, crop rotation, insects, plant disease, composting, irrigation, variety selection, seed sourcing and a lot more topics that organic production entails. We enjoy partnering with nature to grow healthy food.  We go to great lengths to document the process for others to verify.  And, we know that other certified organic farms go through the same thing.  Ultimately we know, if it doesn’t say certified organic, then it’s not.

In Your Share

Edamame Soybeans – organic

Green Beans - organic

Lettuce – organic

Okra - organic

Green Onions - organic

Red Onions - organic

Bell Peppers – organic

Sweet Potatoes – organic

Purple Viking Potatoes - organic

Squash and/or Zucchini

Beets – organic

Red Cabbage – organic


Tomatoes - organic

Recipes to Enjoy

Edamame in the Shell, a Mark Bittman recipe.  You want to eat the beans, not the pods, leaves or stems. Once the Japanese soybeans are cooked and seasoned, squeeze the pod on one side and the beans will pop right out into your mouth.  Discard the pods.


1 pound fresh or frozen edamame in their pods

Black pepper to taste

To boil: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it generously. Add the edamame, return to a boil and cook until bright green, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain. To microwave: Put the edamame in a microwave-safe dish with ¼ cup water and a pinch of salt, cover partly and microwave on high until bright green, 1 to 5 minutes, depending on your microwave power.

Sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt and a little or a lot of black pepper. Toss and serve hot, warm or chilled with an empty bowl on the side for the pods.

Garden-Stuffed Summer Squash, our thanks to a CSA member for sharing this internet recipe that she really enjoyed.

6 medium summer squash

½ C green bell pepper diced

1 C onion, finely chopped

1 C tomatoes, chopped and seeded

½ C sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

½ C Italian bread crumbs

4 slices bacon, fried until crisp and crumbled

pinch seasoned salt

2/3 tsp teaspoon kosher salt

ground black pepper

butter (for sautéing)

In large pot, cover squash with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until squash are tender but firm, about 8 minutes. Drain squash and cool slightly. Trim stems and cut squash in half lengthwise. Remove pulp, then chop it into small pieces. Reserve squash shells.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat, and sauté bell pepper and onion in butter until soft. In a separate pan, sauté squash pulp (about 1 cup) until soft. Combine squash pulp with onions, peppers, tomatoes, cheese, bread crumbs, bacon and seasoned salt.

Place hollowed squash shells in a baking dish, and sprinkle the inside of each with kosher salt and pepper. Spoon squash mixture into each shell. Top with additional bread crumbs
and drizzle top with melted butter. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until top is golden.


Sweet Potato and Fresh Greens Pizza, adapted from an Epicurious recipe. 

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 ½ T olive oil, divided

1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 prepared whole-wheat pizza dough

1 bunch greens, stemmed and torn into bite-size pieces (kale, chard, beet greens, spinach, or any favorite fresh green)

¼ C crumbled goat cheese

2 T shredded Parmesan

1 T crushed walnuts

Heat oven to 425°F. Boil a large pot of water. Cook potato in water until fork-tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat, drain and let cool 5 minutes. In a food processor, pulse potato, 1 T oil, red pepper and a pinch of salt until sauce is smooth.

Roll out dough until 1/4 inch thick. Spread potato sauce evenly over dough. Toss greens in remaining ½ T oil; top pizza with goat cheese, greens, and Parmesan. Bake until crust is golden, 10 to 15 minutes, sprinkling on walnuts in final 2 minutes.


Master Recipe for Oven Fried Sweet Potatoes, recipe from Cook’s Illustrated Perfect Vegetables

1 tsp plus 1 T oil

2 pounds sweet potatoes, scrubbed

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Adjust the oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat to 400°F.  Place ½ tsp of the oil on each of two rimmed baking sheets.  Spread the oil evenly over the entire surface and place both sheets in the oven.

Cut each sweet potato from end to end into 8 thick wedges.  Toss the sweet potatoes and the remaining 1 T of oil in a large bowl to coat.  Season generously with salt and pepper and toss again to blend.  Carefully remove one baking sheet from the oven and place half of the sweet potatoes on the baking sheet cut-side down.  Spread them out so that they do not touch each other.  Return the baking sheet to the oven and repeat the process using the second baking sheet and the remaining sweet potatoes.

Bake until the cut side of the sweet potatoes touching the baking sheet is crusty and golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove each baking sheet from the oven and carefully turn the sweet potatoes, using a thin metal spatula.  Bake until the second cut side of the sweet potatoes now touching the pan is crusty and golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.  Use the metal spatula to transfer the sweet potatoes to a platter and serve.

Roasted Potato and Eggplant, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

1/4 C canola or olive oil 
1 pound eggplant 
1 pound potatoes 
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 
2 garlic cloves, sliced  
lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 400°F.  Put the oil in a large nonstick roasting pan and heat in the oven for a good 10 minutes, until the oil is sizzling hot. 

Meanwhile, cut the eggplants and potatoes into 1-inch cubes, tip into a bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Take the roasting pan from the oven and place on a stable, heatproof surface. Add the eggplants and potatoes and turn to coat in the oil, being careful not to splash yourself. Roast for about 30 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Remove from the oven, stir in the garlic, and roast for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the vegetables are golden brown all over. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, a little more salt and pepper if needed, and any finishing touches you fancy. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Finish with finely grated lemon zest, hot smoked paprika, or chopped herbs.