Costs of Organic Certification for Small Urban Farms: Is it Worth the Cost?

Are urban farms and gardens near Cal Poly Pomona certified organic? Many urban farms and community gardens today throughout San Bernardino county, Los Angeles county, and even nationwide are growing food for their communities organically yet are not USDA certified as organic. The truth is that to be certified, it can be an expensive and extensive process that requires paperwork and funds. However, these urban farms have found alternative ways to advertise their produce that are organic, and in many cases go beyond organic, without the need of a label or seal. 

First, let’s look at the U.S Department of Agriculture’s organic certification process. There are five main steps that must be met found on the USDA’s website: 

  1. The certifying agent reviews the application to verify that practices comply with USDA organic regulations.
  2. An inspector conducts an on-site inspection of the applicant’s operation.
  3. The certifying agent reviews the application and the inspector’s report to determine if the applicant complies with the USDA organic regulations.
  4. The certifying agent issues organic certificate.

This process can be very time consuming which discourages small urban farmers from wanting to obtain the certification. In addition to these steps, there are various costs associated with them such as application fees, an annual renewal fee, inspection fees, etc. that may not always be worth it for these farms. 

Thus, for many urban farms the cost and process involved for obtaining the USDA organic seal may not be worth the cost and effort associated with it. This occurrence is not unique to Southern California urban farms. In an article titled, “For Many Small Farmers, Being Certified ‘Organic’ Isn’t Worth the Trouble”, B&B farms in New Jersey states that they don’t feel the need for the organic certification due to consumer trust and support. They also mention the troublesome duty of daily paperwork associated with having an organic certification that was not feasible long-term.  

While small urban farms who make less than $5000 a year are considered to be exempt from the certification process, they must still go through the certification process if they wish to use the USDA label. Furthermore, in regards to using the term “organic” to market produce, farmers can only use the term “organic” if they are meeting USDA requirements under the National Organic Program (NOP). According to the Division of Agriculture’s publication, “Organic Certification Process”, at the University of Arkansas,”The NOP regulations allow small producers and handlers who follow the organic regulations on production and handling to sell their products as organic without being certified”. Yet for many consumers the organic seal represents a more ecological, nutritional, and healthy choice that establishes trust, faith, and support for those products with the official USDA seal. In spite of this farms and gardens have still been successful in providing “organic” produce to their communities. Rather than simply taking on a seal, these farms have gone beyond organic by adopting many of the organic growing regulations but without using any synthetic chemical fertilizers or pesticides in the growing process. For example, Huerta del Valle community garden ( ) and Amy’s Farm ( ) in Ontario, CA go beyond organic by using the term “chemical free” and thus gain consumer trust and support through a much more transparent method of farming. While the National Organic Program allows certain chemicals to be applied in organic farms as seen under the list of allowed and prohibited substances, these chemical-free farms do not use any synthetic chemicals. Some other organic and/or chemical-free gardens and farms that do not have the USDA organic seal near Cal Poly Pomona include The Root 66 garden in Rancho Cucamonga, CA ( , Growing roots in Pomona, CA ( , and Buena Vista Community garden in Pomona, CA. 

Although currently these farms do not have an organic certification it is possible that as they continue to grow and progress, they may strive to be certified organic.


Annabelle Smith, K. “For Many Small Farmers, Being Certified ‘Organic’ Isn’t Worth the Trouble.”, Bloomberg, 13 Aug. 2014,

“Becoming a Certified Operation.” Becoming a Certified Operation | Agricultural Marketing Service, U.S Department of Agriculture ,

Do I Need To Be Certified Organic? U.S Department of Agriculture ,

“Electronic Code of Federal Regulations.” Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (ECFR), U.S Government Publishing Office,

Rainey, Ronald, et al. Organic Certification Process. University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture ,

One thought on “Costs of Organic Certification for Small Urban Farms: Is it Worth the Cost?

  1. Synthesizer
    As we all know there is a higher cost in the production of these vegetables and crops. Not only are they spending money to qualify as certified and meet all the requirements but there are costs that many do not consider. There are consumer costs and even further expenses that do not directly affect the farmers ability to be organic. For example, the farmers due to lack of credibility since they are paying top dollar they want to guarantee that the product is actually organic(Wang, et al.). Consumers are willing to pay a lot more if the organic product can be traced back. A problem with this not many people do even research with the nutritional facts. So, if this specific group of people do not do basic research that can have more of an impact then they will most likely not invest their time in researching for traceability. With this said it is an added expense for the farmers for something that in the past research and this article confirmed that it has up to a 35% less yield (Wang, et al.). The added expenses of creating traceability as well as the expenses listed in this post makes it hard to motivate farmers to changing to organic. However, the interest in organic did almost triple from 2002 to 2011(Wang, et al). This is a worthwhile article as most of us are consumers and not farmers. We can understand why it is more expensive and what goes into it. For the majority of people they read or act on things that will benefit them or affect them negatively in a direct manner. It also covers a perspective that many take for granted which is the marketing and consumer aspects of organics.

    Wang, Yi, Zhu, Zhanguo, & Chu, Feng. (2017). Organic vs. Non-Organic Food Products: Credence and Price Competition. Sustainability (Basel, Switzerland), 9(4), 545.


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