To Be or Not to Be Certified Organic

As urban farms grow in popularity, especially in California, it will become a more viable option for consumers especially with an increase in their produce being sold in markets as well as an increase in farmers markets and programs such as community supported agriculture. Many people expect the food they buy from urban farming efforts to be grown in a sustainable manner with one of the most common indicators being the USDA certified organic seal or any sort of acknowledgment that their food is certified organic. It is important to consumers because as the distant between where food is produced and consumed decreases and agricultural becomes a fixture of the community in urban areas, the sustainability of food becomes something that people are more conscience about.

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This new consciousness can be problematic when considering how many urban farms are not certified organic although they claim they are still practicing organic agriculture. In a case study with 14 urban farms from throughout the United States, there were only two urban farms that are certified organic. Some farms are USDA certified organic such as Mellowfields urban farms in Kansas and claim there are important benefits such as a willingness of consumers to pay more for produce and a stronger relationship with local grocery stores. Whether the other urban farming organizations have experienced such benefits or not, there is still a common notion that the cost of becoming USDA certified organic will create barriers to production. West Sacramento Urban Farms claims to grow their food solely on organic sustainable practices but find the cost of becoming certified organic to be “prohibitive.” From statements such as this it seems that the managers of these urban farms find not only the annual certification cost to be an issue but also the additional staff and time to keep the necessary documentation and attend to regular inspections in efforts to maintain certification.

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Local Roots Terrafarms constructed out of repurposed storage containers.

Companies such as Los Angeles based indoor growing company local roots says they also decide not to become certified organic but maintain the argument  that they are going a step above certified organic farming by using no pesticides while many certified organic farmers still occasionally spray from a list of OMRI approved pesticides. Local roots repurposed old shipping containers for state-of-the-art vertical agriculture in what they call TerraFarms. In these TerraFarms they are able to have complete control of the environment to hydroponically grow leafy greens and claim to use only 1% of the water that is used in conventional agriculture. Like many non-certified organic urban farms, they wish to create a culture of locally grown food where in replace of having a certified organic label they opt for having complete transparency with the customer. It is important to many of these urban farming organizations that consumers have easy access to their farms and see just where their food comes from. There is a possibility that becoming certified organic is not something that will be beneficial but applies to certain companies that need to fully evaluate their prospects of certification.


Anona, L. (2020). Farming in the City: West Sacramento Urban Farms. SacMag. Retrieved from

Pamintuan, A. (2018). 5 Urban Farms Making a Difference in Los Angeles. LAFood. Retrieved from

Rangarajan, A., Riordan, M. (2019). The Promise of Urban Agriculture: National Study of Commercial Farms in Urban Areas. Retrieved from

Rosenblum, A. (2018). A Local Company is Building the Farm of the Future in Shipping Containers. Los Angeles Magazine. Retrieved from

4 thoughts on “To Be or Not to Be Certified Organic

  1. Searcher/ Synthesizer
    Should I get certified organic? This video from “Ask the Urban Farmer” attempts to answer that question and he explains the benefits and costs. He maintains that it may give you the edge in certain situations. If you work with a restaurant or an organic exclusive farmer’s market being organic would be recommended. In a situation where the customer knows the farmer or trusts the farmer then a certification may not be needed. So basically, his advice is to asses your own personal situation and make your decision according to your own personal circumstances.


    1. Responder:
      The occurrence of non-certified organic urban farms is a topic that has interested me as well. Urban farms throughout California are increasing and with it I see a rising movement and awareness of the importance of local and organic food. I understand the perspective as to why consumers see the USDA certifies organic seal as an important symbol to measure a farm’s sustainability yet I disagree with this notion. So long as a farm is transparent about its practices, the consumers will either support or not support an urban farm as a result rather than just based on a seal. It does stand to reason why many urban farms and consumers want a more sustainable and organic approach to to farm in cities for their health and livelihood. To build upon this perspective, locally, many urban farms are not yet certified organic yet are use completely chemical-free methods for health, environmental, and social justice reasons. These farms are going beyond organic without the seal and still gain consumer trust and support.

      It was interesting to see both, how an organic seal may actually benefit an urban farm and how it may not be worth the trouble for others. However, I find more often that urban farms, especially more local to the Cal Poly Pomona area, are not certified organic Yet this does not mean that we won’t see emerging urban farms with USDA organic certifications; it solely depends on the farm’s goals and outreach.


  2. Zachary’s post and its further replies really help open the discussion to the reality of consumer’s relationships with food labels. Less than 2% of the country are directly involved in agriculture and the closest urban populations likely come to it is through grocery stores and other food vendors. This disconnection is clashing with consumer trends towards being more conscientious about their food choices.

    For example, according to USDA regulation, it is illegal for hormones to be used in any aspect of poultry production. However, it is common to see packaged poultry products in the store sporting the label “Hormone Free!” While even being required to provide additional labeling highlighting this fact (be it in usually minuscule font) a 2016 report noted that meat products labeled as such saw a 28.6% growth in some markets.

    The label organic poses many of the same issues surrounding misinformation. It is believed by many that organic food is completely herbicide and pesticide free, better for the environment, and healthier to consume. However, these are just misconceptions as pesticides and herbicides can be applied as long as they’re organically derived (not meaning that they’re any safer than non-organic products for either people or the environment) and no study has shown that organic food poses any greater health benefits. When this is the case, does not putting the funds forward to secure the organic label ultimately result in market self-destruction? Additionally: Do labels really matter or have they just turned into a consumer manipulation tactic?

    These urban farms (and urban agriculture as a whole), however, may end up providing the solution. By reintroducing agriculture to areas that have lost, suddenly many more people will have the opportunity to see and engage with agriculture in a much more direct way. By being transparent with their practices despite their lack of organic label, these urban farms could act as educational resources by allowing average people to see agriculture in practice right on their very street. This could be the key to encouraging consumers to be more active and aware in their purchases and not just rely on labels.

    Works Cited:
    CPG, FMCG & Retail. (2016, October 24). Weighing Consumers’ Growing Appetite for ‘Clean’ Meat Labeling. Retrieved from



    The video demonstrates that the “Organic” label might not always be worth it or what it really should be. That the rising costs for organic operations and the dropping market prices might make it undesirable. It might not be worth the extra money and effort to certify as a grower, and as a consumer, it might not be 100% trusted as an identity tool. It might be in an operator’s best interest to aspire for the label of Organic when they can focus simply on being transparent about their practices with their customers and build trust and loyalty directly, rather than through the blind trust of a third party label contracted by the USDA.


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