Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Is it ignorance or is it fraud?...

Posted 4/26/16 (Tue)

Something happened a couple of weeks ago that I found very disturbing and didn’t know how to react to it.

There was a TV segment on KXMC-TV in Minot about NDSU Extension offering spring gardening classes.

An individual was interviewed from the Minot Farmers’ Market and said “we’re pretty much organic.”

I have serious issues with that statement, because my wife and I have a gardening business called North Star Farms that has been certified organic for the past nine years. I know the individual who made that statement, and I know he isn’t organic.

According to the National Organic Program, which falls under the umbrella of the USDA, it clearly states that if you as an individual, or your group earn more than $5,000 in any year, and you claim to be organic, it is considered fraud and the person making the claim can be fined up to $11,000.

For those who earn less than $5,000 in a year, they are allowed to use the word “organic,” but they still must maintain practices that are set forth in the National Organic Program.

Each year, we have to go through the same protocol; tell the certifier what we are growing that season in detail, provide maps of our gardens, produce labels of inputs we are using such as potting soil or even soap to clean our equipment, pay fees to have our property and greenhouse certified and finally, we get physically inspected at least once in a year.

So for someone to say on TV they are “organic,” when I know they really aren’t, it’s very dishonest because that individual is circumventing what we have to go through every year to earn that status. He knows consumer demand for organic products is exploding, so he tells his customer what they want to hear, right?

I didn’t know what to do with that situation. I thought about it for a couple of days and contacted my certifier in Medina with the TV segment attached to an e-mail and asked for advice.

I was told that if I want to make a formal complaint, the USDA will investigate.

Meanwhile, the Bismarck Tribune prints an article about the “Hillview Organic Farm” in Mandan that has no plans to be organic, at least not this year.

I don’t know the people, but I know the farm and it easily produces more than $5,000 in sales.

Sometimes people are ignorant of USDA Organic rules and regulations. But these individuals are well educated and should realize they’re violating federal law.

If not, they’re walking on thin ice and are putting their businesses and markets in jeopardy. I chose not to file a complaint as I’m going to slide down to that level.

I made my decision and feel better about it. We like to hold ourselves to a higher standard and will continue to do so as long as we remain in the gardening business.

And our customers know that and that is why they respond the way they do. We can prove we are organic when these other individuals most likely cannot.

With that in mind, we have to think about the well-known phrase, “let the buyer beware.”

When you purchase produce from a CSA or farmers’ market vendor, ask them to show their certificate, ask them to prove it. Because by law, we have to possess our most recent certification certificate for the public to view.

Last summer, it was never asked of us in Kenmare or Minot, but it was available in case anyone disputed our organic claim.

Instead of going on the cheap and claiming something we’re not, we’ll continue to build our character with real organic produce, with our continued organic vegetable research plots and our greenhouse tours that all show our resolve.

There’s a saying, I think it goes like this. “Give them enough rope and they’re going to hang themselves.”

I’m going to take stock in that because the way organic demand is growing, I’m not the only person aware of this law and at some point they’ll get dinged real hard.

This is the third time I’ve witnessed this. Two years ago at the North Dakota Farmers’ Market and Growers Association convention, I heard a vendor tell a group of 60 people that he’s organic.

Later that summer, I stopped at his farm on business and caught him spraying glyphosate on the perimeter of his garden. Then he denied what he had said several months earlier.

I can’t imagine what these people must tell their customers. They’re modern-day snake oil salesmen, that’s what they are.