Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 3:18 PM on Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Farmers' Market 'Local' trumps 'organic' when it comes to 'fair'

This week the town gets descended upon by writers and wordsmiths for the Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference. Maybe one of them can explain what the word "organic" means.

Down at the Homer Farmers' Market it can be a confusing term. People have learned to value organic produce so why isn't anyone using the organic label?

The truth is the market board requests that none of the vendors use it.

It's about fairness.

The word "organic" is highly regulated at the federal level. To be certified "organic" is an expensive endeavor here in Alaska where the nearest certifying agency is in Washington state. It can cost hundreds of dollars just to get a certifier up here and then hundreds more to pay them for their time and the fees required.

But for the professional producer at the market who makes more than $5,000 a year, it is illegal to use the word "organic" unless they are certified. It doesn't matter if they sing to their vegetables and tuck them in at night, no amount of care makes them "organic" unless they pay to be certified.

Unfortunately for that dedicated farmer, anyone who stops by the market to occasionally sell surplus produce (and makes less than $5,000) can have "organic" written all over the place. As long as they claim to follow the organic guidelines, they are "organic," no certification required. So to be fair, no one at the market touts "organic."

This is where "local" trumps "organic." Down at the market you have a chance to ask the producers personally how they create the food you buy. Every producer is different. Are they pesticide free? Biodynamic? What do they add to their soils? No certification process could be that thorough.

The word "local" may not be regulated, but it carries a lot of implications. Not only do you learn what methods farmers use, it was probably picked in the last 24 hours. Could it get any better?

So head down to the Homer Farmers' Market on Ocean Drive this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., talk to a farmer and learn which words matter to you.

Kyra Wagner is the director of Sustainable Homer and the Homer Farmers' Market's biggest fan. She can be reached at kyra@ sustainablehomer.org.