Organic for the Planet

Organic farmers face the same challenges as non-organic farmers: weeds, pests, diseases, drought, floods, and nutrient requirements. They have made the decision to grow food in a way that protects both people and the planet. Organic farmers are focused on preserving the soil for future generations by farming in a way that sustains nutrients and harbors beneficial organisms (like worms!). Organic farming neither causes nor leads to soil erosion, groundwater contamination, ocean dead zones, or loss of biodiversity.

Preserve the Environment

Organic farmers are required to use Integrated Pest Management practices, protect wildlife, promote biodiversity, and work to improve and maintain native ecosystems. These efforts are documented in the farmer’s Organic System Plan and evaluated by CCOF. Organic production is free of genetic engineering – increasing organic production will help mitigate the unwanted spread of GMO crops and contamination.

Mitigate the Effects of Climate Change

Organic agriculture limits the effects of climate change. Organic farmers are extremely dedicated to the excellent quality of their soil. Research from the Rodale Institute demonstrates that soil under organic production can remove about 7,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each year through sequestration. Imagine the impact that more acres of organic production could have on the health of the planet if consumers demanded more organic foods!

The True Value of Organic

Do you think organic is pricey? Organic farming and production practices are costlier and often more time consuming than conventional methods. Plus, government support for organic production is unequal to the support for conventional agriculture. The love and care that goes into growing organic fruits and vegetables is well worth the investment. In fact, many organic foods cost the same or even less than their conventional counterpart! Demanding more organic options and packing your shopping cart with certified organic foods means a lot; it helps grow the marketplace and change our food system.

The Difference between Organic and Sustainable

Organic farming generally falls within the accepted definition of sustainable agriculture. However, it is important to distinguish between the two, since organic products can be (unsustainably) produced on large industrial farms, and farms that are not certified organic can produce food using methods that will sustain the farm’s productivity for generations. Some organic dairy farms, for example, raise cows in large confinement facilities but are able to meet the bare minimum requirements for organic certification, while a non-organic certified small farm could use organic guidelines and be self-sufficient by recycling all the farm’s waste to meet its fertility needs.

To distinguish between organic and sustainable, here are some comparisons:


Organic farms must be independently certified every year and approved by the USDA, while a farm using sustainable practices do not require any official certification. Organic is an actual certification; sustainable is more a philosophy or way of life. The best way to be sure about the growing practices is to buy directly from a farmer – that way you can ask questions if you are uncertain about the sustainability of his or her practices.

Animal Welfare

Organic farmers need to give animals “access” to outdoors, but they can actually confine animals and gain organic certification with as little as an open door leading to a cement patio. In recent years, on larger USDA certified organic farms, a system of semi-confinement has been implemented. In this case, animals can spend their entire life in housing, but are granted “access to the outdoors” through screened windows.11 In a more sustainable system, animals must be permitted to carry out their natural behaviors, like rooting, pecking or grazing. A farmer using sustainable methods might keep his or her animals indoors in bad weather, but the animals are given ample space to move around naturally and are healthy, comfortable and well cared for.


While no antibiotics can be fed to organic-certified livestock, there is no legal restriction for antibiotic use in sustainable farming. Many farmers using sustainable practices do not administer any antibiotics at all, but some may do so when their animals are sick and need to be treated. The milk and meat of animals given antibiotics on these farms are not used for human consumption until the antibiotics have fully passed out of the animals’ systems.

Artificial Hormones

No added or artificial hormones are allowed for organic farming, nor are they used for sustainable farming.

Corporate Involvement

Organic food can be produced by large corporations, while sustainable food production is carried out by small farmers and families who live on the land where they farm.

Size of the farm

For organic farming, there is no limitation on how many acres can be used to grow crops. Sustainable farmers plant crops in relatively small, mixed plots as a form of pest control and to build soil fertility.

Food Miles

Organic food can travel thousands of miles before reaching your dinner plate, and certification does not take into consideration the use of fossil fuels used to truck food.  Sustainable food, however, is distributed and sold as close to the farm as possible.

Natural, Organic, Sustainable. What is the difference?

Many questions have been raised about natural, organic, and sustainable agriculture. What is the difference? I thought all meat products are natural? If I buy goats and put them on pasture is that classified organic? These are typical questions I receive on a daily basis regarding the agriculture industry. Let’s examine the difference between natural, organic, and sustainable agriculture.


The definition of natural depends on who is defining the word. U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture do not have an official definition for the word. When it comes time to use the term, natural, both regulatory units evaluate the products on a case by case basis. Natural according to the USDA is definied as not adding any artificial flavoring, color ingredients, chemical preservatives or artificial or synthetic ingredients to the raw product. This definition only applies to meat and poultry. A natural product is minimally processed and does not alter the raw version.


Organic farming relies on practices such as using cultural and biological pest management, elimination of all hormones, antibiotics, and synthetic chemicals in crop and livestock production. Products, producers, and their farms must meet United States Department of Agriculture specific standards to be labeled as organic. Farmers must go through a certification program to have their farm classify as organic. Meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products can be classified organic if no antibiotics or growth hormones have been given to the animal during its entire life.Feed for these animals must also be grown organically. USDA organic certifier will inspect the farm and ensure the farmer is following all organic standards.

There are three different types of organic labels for products.

Labeling requirements are based on the percentage of organic ingredients in the product. ‘100 percent Organic’ labeled products must contain only organic ingredients approved by the USDA. Products labeled ‘Organic’ contain at least 95 percent ingredients produced organically. The ‘Made with Organic’ label is used for processed products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients.


Finally, sustainable has no hard and fast definition. Sustainable foods are usually raised by farmers that promote the health of animals, land, environment, and community. Sustainable farming is more of a way of life and does not have any sort of certification. Animals must be able to carry out natural behaviors such as rooting and grazing. Sustainable farms produce and sell products that are sold as close to the farm as possible. Consumers can partake in sustainable practices by buying local and eating seasonally.

So remember, next time you hear someone talk about these three types of farming practices, make sure to educate them on the proper definition.

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