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 ( https://www.huertadelvalle.org/ ) and Amy’s Farm ( https://www.amysfarm.com/ ) 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 (https://theroot66garden.org/) , Growing roots in Pomona, CA (https://wearegrowingroots.org/) , 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.

References 

Annabelle Smith, K. “For Many Small Farmers, Being Certified ‘Organic’ Isn’t Worth the Trouble.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 13 Aug. 2014, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-08-13/for-many-small-farmers-being-certified-organic-isn-t-worth-the-trouble

“Becoming a Certified Operation.” Becoming a Certified Operation | Agricultural Marketing Service, U.S Department of Agriculture , www.ams.usda.gov/services/organic-certification/becoming-certified.

Do I Need To Be Certified Organic? U.S Department of Agriculture , www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/DoINeedTobeCertifiedOrganicFactSheet.pdf

“Electronic Code of Federal Regulations.” Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (ECFR), U.S Government Publishing Office, www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr

Rainey, Ronald, et al. Organic Certification Process. University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture , www.uaex.edu/publications/pdf/FSA-41.pdf.

Aquaponics, just keep swimming or get back on land?

We have seen that Urban agriculture is trying to give the best and most of food and crops to people with limited resources in urban areas. Usually incorporating trays and raised beds for planting crops. We have been well aware of limited spacing being a factor to plan out crop production and spacing but what if soil wasn’t a factor? What if using aquaponics is using water to grow plants without the use of soil in urban agriculture was a more viable and more practical than a setting with soil? We will explore this.

            A little bit of background on what aquaponics is, according to the Article Aquaponics in urban agriculture: social acceptance and urban food planning they describe it as ‘Aquaponics combines two widely known technologies, recirculating aquaculture and hydroponics (Pollard, Ward, & Koth, 2017). Now what are these two methods? Well recirculating aquaculture systems are systems one would use at home for a fish tank they filter out undesirable ammonia toxicity and keep a healthy environment for fish to live. Now hydroponics is the type of horticulture based on growing plants without the use or need of traditional soil. Now let us try to understand this idea. A fish is a living creature just like you, a plant, and me we all need proper nutrients and a clean environment to live. We also need to be sure our nutrients are proper and not contaminated as well and that is where the recirculating aquaculture system takes its place by filtering out undesirable waster from you guessed it, fish. Fish in the system eat and cause bio waste, now this bio waste is filtered in the system and the nutrient rich water runs through a drip irrigation system into the roots not the actual food we humans will eat removing contact to the main plant and just roots.

            Now this sounds great but why should we consider this method of growing in Urban agriculture? Well the urban population has surpassed the rural population (Laidlaw & Magee, 2016) and the creation of readily available fresh produce will be a luxury and a cost-effective way of feeding people for the future no longer having to haul massive quantities and cutting out expenses. The need to create a sustainable approach of a urban agriculture system is an incredibly important task for the present to carry us to the future of agriculture. What better way to help the continuation of innovation of the oldest profession than cut out agricultures oldest friend and enemy, soil. Soil can be a tricky element in agriculture to work with and its maintenance needs to be delicate and accurate for the best results. Soil also harbors the possibility of nutrient deficiencies and toxicity that can destroy crops. In an aquaponic system in an urban environment we do not need to worry as much due to technology taking on the heavy lifting such as temperature control and water analysis for best water/ plant nutrients in a system. The part that has been most studied is the best mix of vegetables and fish that mix well with what filters in a system for best results (Pollard, Ward, & Koth, 2017).

            The problem with installing an aquaponic production system in the mainstream is the current lack knowledge of optimal use. As of 2017 it is not well known what communities, markets, or people it will serve best and as consequence according to the article Aquaponics in Urban Agriculture: Social Acceptance and Urban Food Planning, “The participants, as people already heavily involved in urban food production, education, distribution, or business planning at many levels, were mostly unfamiliar with aquaponics. Thus, it is likely that the majority of people less involved will be even less aware of this technology”. What was also said is they asked for greater understanding of these systems including a better understanding of the business aspect of the production system.

            Currently to the understanding of the topic it seems like both are systems that work. Though they work one is less understood and needs to be studied further for better explanations to future urban agriculture producers so that we can see truly which of the two work best and for what reasons either one is best suited for.

Works cited

Laidlaw, J., & Magee, L. (2016). Towards urban food sovereignty: the trials and tribulations of of community-based aquaponics enterprises in Milwaukee and melbourne. Local Environment, 573-590.

Pollard, G., Ward, J. D., & Koth, B. (2017). Aquaponics in Urban Agriculture: social Acceptance and Urban Food Planning. Horticulture.

Urban Agriculture is not going to Feed the World… and that’s okay

When arguments against urban agriculture arise, the topics of yield and production type tend to be towards the forefront. Even when speaking with individuals involved in small scale agriculture, many have doubts over the attention it receives and the worth of the practice’s overall production. Some common rhetoric always seems to be along the lines of “well people cannot survive off herbs and leafy microgreens alone”.

What crops are responsible for feeding the world?

The three global staple crops are wheat, rice, and corn (maize). High in carbohydrates, these provide efficient and important energy in the human diet. In fact, these three cereal crops provide nearly 60% of the total calories consumed worldwide (FAO). America is one of the world leaders in corn and wheat production (15.6 billion bushels combined in 2019), which is done mainly in the vast Midwestern region (NASS). Even with these rural communities being so far from urban Los Angeles, once cereal crops go through post-harvest processing, they can be transported and stored for months at a time. This makes these agricultural products accessible and relatively inexpensive.

Argentina on track for a super wheat harvest | Argentine Farm News

On urban farms and gardens, it is unlikely that growing these crops will result in similar outcomes seen in commercial production. Most cereal crops are either self-pollinated or wind pollinated, requiring that they be grown in dense rows. This takes up valuable space as cereal crops take several months to grow and result in only a single harvest. Additionally, to receive commercial levels of yield (i.e. a low level 24 bushels/1440 lbs of wheat per acre) expensive agricultural inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides are expected. Due to realistic yield expectations and the ease of accessibility in the United States, growing cereal crops such as wheat, rice, and corn in small urban farms is just not practical.

So, yes: there is some truth to the common rhetoric.

The difference between being satiated and having a complete diet

What it [the common rhetoric] fails to address though is that that the products being grown on urbans farms, the “herbs and leafy microgreens” (in addition to various vegetables, fruits, and tree crops) have been found to be revolutionary in the improvement of diet quality and security of that standard in inner city urban communities. While produce does not supply the calories of cereal crops, they are vital in the human diet for providing essential vitamins and minerals. The production of many vegetable and fruit crops can be done on the small-scale easily (ideal for the empty/abandoned lots being used for urban agriculture), with container gardening even being a viable option. These plants tend to reach harvesting age within 2-3 months, and afterwards will produce regularly throughout the season.

Container Gardening - Growing Vegetables In Containers

In the 2014 article “Gearing up to support urban farming in California”, it is explained that there are many inner-city communities that are located within food deserts, areas where there are few accessible grocery stores providing affordable, quality, and culturally appropriate produce. Where urban farms and community gardens have been established, many of the hardships associated with living in a food desert are offset. It was found that “People who participate, or have family members who participate, in community gardens ‘were 3.5 times more likely to consume fruits and vegetables at least five times per day” (R. Surls et al.). Higher consumption rates of vegetables and fruits help prevent malnutrition and obesity. Additionally, because these foodstuffs are being produced by the communities themselves, the products usually will stay within its limits, aiding in its overall food security.

With all this in mind, it is okay to say that urban agriculture is not going to feed the world. Urban agriculture (as it is now) exists for the communities in which it is established. Why is it then, with its recognizable nutritional benefits, does the value of urban agriculture come under scrutiny from even the agricultural community itself?

Works Cited:

Crop Production 2019 Summary. (2020, January 10). National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). Retrieved from https://www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/Todays_Reports/reports/cropan20.pdf

Staple Foods: What do people eat? FAO. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/3/u8480e/u8480e07.htm

Surls, R., Feenstra, G., Golden, S., Galt, R., Hardesty, S., Napawan, C., & Wilen, C. (2014, January 22). Gearing up to support urban farming in California: Preliminary results of a needs assessment. Retrieved from https://ucanr.edu/sites/UrbanAg/files/188371.pdf

Urban Farming in Los Angeles County

Urban agriculture has become an activity that people living in urban food desserts can use to produce an adequate amount of healthy and nutritious food for their family. The ability to produce an adequate amount of healthy and nutritious food has given several communities with a low socioeconomic status the ability to develop a sense of food security while at the same time developing a greater understanding of the different processes involved in growing food. Although the introduction of various urban agriculture methods such as community supported agriculture, urban farming, and community gardens has helped to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, there are various safety issues associated with the production of food.

Food safety is a discipline that describes the handling, preparation, and storage of food in a manner that prevents the development of various foodborne illnesses. Many individuals who desire to grow food in the form of either a type of communal agriculture or a home garden seek to understand the various sanitation practices associated with urban agriculture. Some questions that an urban farmer might ask include what are good agricultural practices? How many days should I wait to harvest crops from the time of manure application? How can I sanitize sensitive crops and herbs without damaging them, and what kids of solutions should I be using to sanitize food?

In areas like Los Angeles County, there have been a variety of urban agriculture projects that have allowed growers to reduce their carbon footprint while at the same time working with nature to adapt to ever changing weather conditions. An example urban agriculture project that is located in Los Angeles County is Local Roots. Local Roots is an indoor farming company that is based in Vernon California that transforms forty foot long shipping containers and turns them into “terra farms” that produce the same amount of food as five acres of farmland. In each container, climate control technology and calibrated LED lights to create ideal growing conditions to grow leafy greens from seed to harvest using hydroponic methods. Due to their small size and high levels of mobility, terra farms can be customized to grow anything anywhere and can be brought closer to consumers and thus allowing produce to be harvested at the peak of ripeness and nutrition.

Another urban agriculture project that is based in Los Angeles County is Farm LA that was found in 2014 and rescues vacant urban plots of land in Los Angeles and turns them into urban farms. In the years since 2018, Farm LA has managed to gather a group of community volunteers from various parts of Los Angeles to help with various tasks on the farm such as maintaining the aesthetic appearance of the space to harvesting the farms drought resistant crops. During the harvest period, a portion of the harvest is donated to food banks, senior homes, and community food share projects. On the legal side, Farm LA has worked with the LA Food Policy Council to advocate for the passage of the Urban Agricultural Zone Act. The act encouraged Los Angeles residents to convert their unused pieces of land into an urban garden in exchange for a reduction in property taxes.

There are more issues to consider when deciding on what kinds of plants and animals an urban farmer will have on their property and whether or not they will sell their products. Aside from product regulations, there are also regulations for the types of animals a person can have on their farm, zoning laws and regulations, public health, animal health and welfare, disagreements with neighbors, etc… If these laws and regulations are not adhered to there are chances of fines and citations and the possibility of the animals being removed from the farm. With the rise of urban farming people are slowly changing roles from being consumers to becoming community members and engaging in the production process and asserting responsibility for the maintenance of the environment.

Raising Livestock in Urban Agriculture

Urban agriculture provides individuals the opportunity to engage in agricultural production for their personal use and can benefit the community. Many individuals cultivate a wide array of produce that provides security and sovereignty in their community. These individuals acquire so much more than food on their plate but, an understanding and appreciation of the development of food in their own communities and the networking of the citizens of the area. Through the years, individuals have developed creative ways to grow produce and raise livestock; acting as a symbiotic reliance to aid in the sustainability of their production. Raisers of livestock can use the manure for fertilizer and byproducts (milk, hair/wool, meat, etc.) as a means for profit. However, with the presence of livestock in an urban or city location involves more stipulations (Urban Agriculture, n.d.). This made me question if there are more laws for livestock production than in crop cultivation.

Many individuals seeking livestock raising in an urban environment, seek to understand the regulations and laws of their areas. There are many items to consider. Such what type of livestock can I raise in accordance with the zoning laws? Is there a noise ordinance? Are there any specifications in the local laws about composting or odor? Is there a specific quantity of animals per parcel or acre of land? Is there a regulation where the animal(s) need to be a specific amount of feet or yards from the local residences? If the animal(s) produce a product for consumption which would require a cottage food operation?

There are many types of animals to be considered for urban agriculture such as- goats, rabbits, sheep, equine (horses and donkeys), pigs, poultry (chickens, ducks, turkeys, & geese), bees, and fish (Tilapia). These animals can produce byproducts; for example goats can be used for meat, organic matter, as well as for dairy products.

Livestock production in urban agriculture farming is where most of community conflict arises (Urban Agriculture, n.d.). There are several types of laws that affect the livestock production-zoning laws, animal welfare laws, public health laws, and nuisance laws. The maximum number of animals is combined with all animals on the premises whether they are pet or for production. There also needs to be a distinction between the small and large animals to determine the unit number for the land/parcel. A major concern is the rights and welfare of animals. If animals are mistreated it is a felony under the California Penal Code 597; subject to imprisonment and a $20,000.00 fine (Clark et. al., n.d.). Animal rights are of major concern; individuals must provide adequate space, sanitation, free of pain and suffering, and humane treatment. There are strict regulations in some cities with the processing of livestock; they are to be brought to specific certified slaughterhouse chosen by the city. Sanitation is a component of Public Health Laws as it prevents zoonotic disease transmissions from the livestock to the citizens. Animal control agencies charge individuals for a livestock permit. Zoning laws can be viewed as one of the difficult laws to abide by as there are stipulations that must be met to prevent extreme noise, traffic, parking issues, number of animals, and the type. Additional permits may be required depending on the area along with registration and renewal with CDFA, business license, Seller’s Permit, Employer Identification Number, home occupation permit if at the residence, and worker requirements (compensation insurance, wages, and registration (Clark et. al., n.d.).   

Some livestock products are time sensitive to prevent pathogenicity development, they are not considered as a Cottage product but, fall in the FDA Food Code Section 3-501.17 Ready-to-Eat, Time/Temperature Control for Safety Food, Date Marking (FDA Food Code Section 3-501.17 Ready-to-Eat, 2019). There are strict stipulations with cold storage and consumption before the expiration date. The intent is to consume the product before the potential bacterial or pathogen development- Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, etc. The products that are considered as “Raw Agricultural Products” include- eggs, meat, and dairy products whereas other livestock products may require a cottage food operation permit such as honey (Agriculture Ombudsman, Cottage Food Operation, n.d.).

There are more items to consider when deciding on livestock in an urban agriculture setting. There are not only regulations for the products of the animals but, zoning, nuisance, public health, animal welfare, animal rights, etc. If these laws are not adhered to, there are chances of fines, imprisonment, and animals being taken away. These laws and regulations aid to the determination of what area to establish the farm, what animals are permitted, the products that can be produced, and influences the business operation. Livestock do tend to have in a sense, more regulations and the owners have more responsibilities they must uphold to keep their stock when compared to cultivation of produce. This is due to the potential hazards and nuisance to the locals and consumers as well as the health impact and treatment of the animal needs to be considered; there are rules and stipulations for the humane way to treat livestock.

References

Agriculture Ombudsman, Cottage Food Operation (n.d.). University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. https://ucanr.edu/sites/CESonomaAgOmbuds/Value_Add_Products/Cottage_Food_Bill/#list

Clark, A., Esandari-Qajar, Y., & Pallana E. (n.d.) Animals and Livestock. UrbanAgLaws.org. http://www.urbanaglaw.org/animals-and-livestock/

FDA Food Code Section 3-501.17 Ready-to-Eat, Time/Temperature Control for Safety Food, Date Marking. (2019, May 30.). U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Retrieved October 30, 2020, from                 https://www.fda.gov/media/127796/download#:~:text=Section%203%2D501.17%20specifies%20ready,C%20(41%C2%B0F)%20or

Urban Agriculture (n.d.). University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. Retrieved from                 https://ucanr.edu/sites/UrbanAg/Production/Animals_and_Bees/