Our shoppers often ask us whether our vendors sell organic products. You will not find many certified organic farmers in this area, as most of our farmers are working farms that are too small to earn what it takes to become certified organic since the U.S. government took over the certification process about 15 years ago. Many of the farmers who come to markets in Northern Virginia are farming in a sustainable manner, using minimal pesticides and fungicides only when necessary in this humid area to be able to grow crops such as apples, for instance. They have either given up their organic name or have not sought to be able to use that term. And unless they are certified by the government, they cannot use the term. In addition, chemicals have become very expensive to use. There are various relatively inexpensive methods for controlling weeds and thereby pests, so farmers who regularly used chemicals years ago have also reduced their dependence on them.
The real benefit of shopping locally is that you can ask your farmers how they farm, and most are happy to tell you about their methods and to explain the impact on the food you buy. Buying organic from exotic locales — and even from California — is no guarantee that your food is actually organic or safe. I wouldn’t trust any official in Mexico to certify anything; this opinion is informed by the advice of Mexican farmers in Virginia whom I know. And many of the recent food scares in greens and sprouts have come from commercial organic farms in this country.
We will have sustainably, naturally or biologically grown produce in all of our markets next year, and the farmers will have signage to let you know who they are. The Mennonite co-op that comes to our Oakton market comprises farmers who use minimal pesticides early in the growth cycle, and they will tell you which produce has been sprayed and which has not. Even our old-time West Virginia farmer who is still bringing apples and winter veggies to our winter markets is bringing produce that now has no residue at all. And none of it has been waxed or treated since picking to prolong its life or looks while in the root cellar or cold storage.
Ask what you want to know, and you will learn what these small farmers deal with in this area where they are all working to extend their growing season and how their solutions affect their crops. And once we welcome back our farmers for the summer season, there will be information on our website about those who grow in an organic way.
For more information, see our brochure, “Why Buy Local?”