You see the term organic plastered all over the place and people like myself are somewhat cynical over the whole movement. It's not because we don't believe in organics, but rather we don't believe in the claims of most people. The good news is, things are cleaning up. There is now official standards on what can and cannot be called organic. Canada also has a very strict standard of what can be deemed organic in Canada. In fact, many items called organic in the United States are deemed non-organic in Canada.
So how do you know what is officially organic and what's really just a marketing ploy to sound better? In order for somebody to be officially organic, they need some sort of certification. Somebody can't just come along and out of the blue call their product organic. There are many steps required to get a product certified and there are only a few certification bodies that are around. In fact, there are currently only six official certification bodies in Ontario. OMRI is one of the largest reviewers of organic products though it is based off the USDA organic rules which don't always apply in Canada. At least, for the general consumer, it's probably the most common logo we're going to see and the best thing to look for.
If you want to use something in your garden that is organic, officially, it's difficult. In fact, it's nearly impossible. Take fertilizers for example. What products out there are officially certified organic? Reviewing the OMRI listing of fertilizers shows Myke(r) has one of the only products available in Canada that is officially organic. Only two companies have certified organic Corn Gluten Meal, and neither are in Canada.
So products that are officially organic are hard to find. But what about the plants? Lots of people have organic plants and seeds, right? Actually not in Canada. I know of more than one seed company that sells organic seeds in the US, but were forced to re-package their seeds as non-organic in Canada based on our rules. For plants, it's really hard to be organic. Here are just a few of the requirements:
- Land cannot have any non-organic substances applied for a minimum of two years for annual crops, or three years for perennial plants.
- If a neighboring production area is not organic, there must be a clearly defined non-organic buffer zone of land around the production area.
- All production stock (cuttings, seeds, etc.) must originate from organic stock. The only exceptions are if organic stock is not available or if perennial cuttings from non-organic plants are then grown on organically for at least one year.
- Greenhouse production cannot use any growing mix with a wetting agent, which is present in nearly all growing mixes.
- No water-soluble fertilizers are allowed and cannot have been used for a three year period.
- Greenhouse facilities cannot use biodegradable plastics or most treated wood products in their facilities nor can the plants or soil come in contact with those materials.
- Use recyclable or reusable containers where possible (Styrofoam is typically not permitted).
When you really start looking at the requirements to be officially organic, it's not a trivial process. Too many people throw around the term organic to try and distinguish themselves or get some kind of an advantage over other people or products, but most of it is untrue. An even larger danger is making the claim of being organic without growing a plant yourself - you really have no idea what methods are used to grow that plant.
We're not an organic grower. We don't claim to be nor do we pretend to be. We are a responsible grower and use our resources responsibly and that means keeping chemicals to a minimum and using only the fertilizers that the plants require. We do use organic products and tools on many occasions when they are suitable.
So next time somebody tries to tell you something is organic, think a little. Look for the certifications. Are they really organic or is it a marketing ploy? We can all make good decisions on our gardens and food as long as they're educated decisions and not based on marketing tools.