Know Your Farmer Certification

Susie Sutphin

Susie Sutphin › Susie Sutphin is an organic farmer and freelance marketer in North Tahoe, CA. She manages the ...


Nowadays, we need a logo, certification or stamp of approval to validate pretty much everything we buy. But why? It’s best to know your farmer.

Certifications provide assurance that someone is representing the consumer, holding producers to a set of standards. We need representation because we have become disconnected or removed from pretty much every consumer good we buy. 150 years ago, most of what we needed came from within 25 miles. We knew our butcher, bookbinder, tailor, farmer, tool maker, etc. You didn’t need certifications because you knew who made what you were buying. You approved the producer yourself.

Throughout the 20th century, every industry, agriculture included, began to centralize production. It placed the consumers on a fast-moving train that was pulling them further and further away from their origin of their purchases.

But how do we know the “set” of criteria used to validate a product is “our” criteria? Do we research the criteria? Probably not! We see the logo and assume, “It’s got credentials so it must be okay.”

Take the ‘Organic’ label. It enables us to shop like zombies, roving the aisles just looking for the green and white circle asking one question, “Is it organic?” It is definitely the better choice over conventional and supports a better growing practice, but it doesn’t bring us closer to our food and the person who grew it.

Regional food systems bring us all closer to our food and the closer we get, the need for official certifications becomes lessened. And in the case of food, this enables us to get to know our farmers and certify them ourselves.

But how do we know the “set” of criteria used to validate a product is “our” criteria?

This is especially helpful for small, market farmers growing vegetables and fruit for farm share programs and farmers’ markets, as well as regional distribution to restaurants and schools. Their raw materials are going straight into local food production. If these farmers can talk to their customer and the customer can see their ecological growing practices, why do we need organic certification for these producers? Becoming ‘organic certified’ can be costly, putting yet another financial burden on cash-strapped farmers. Yet, we are conditioned to look for that logo and if it’s not there, we forget that we can do a little research or simply ask the farmer at the farmers’ market how they grow their food.

This is not to discredit organic certification. It has an important place. If a farm is growing primarily for packaged, organic food like cookies, chips, dairy, and sauces where the ingredients could be coming from multiple producers, we do need a way to ensure all those producers are following a similar set of guidelines.

The moral to the story is we need to lower the market barriers for small farms growing sustainably and wanting to distribute locally. And organic certification should not be the only way to gauge the quality of our food. The Know Your Farm Certification should be proof enough.

Photo credit: Staci Strauss

What are your thoughts? Is ‘certified organic’ an end-all-be-all to you?