Florida Organics On The Fast Track

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Organic farming is the fastest growing form of agriculture in the U.S. today. Despite being one of the oldest methods of producing food, organic farming and organic foods have only recently been something more consumers seem to recognize and associate with more nutrition, better flavor, and with less or without harmful chemical residues.

The Early Days

Organic agriculture practices have been in Florida since agriculture began. The current organic movement in the state began with a few growers in the 1970s who were interested in producing food without synthetic chemicals. They helped initiate the first organic growers association in Florida in 1989, known as Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers. Back then, there must have been no more than a handful of organic growers in the entire state, cultivating not more than a few hundred acres.

Current Picture

Today, there are more than 130 different organic producers in the state. Organic operations are spread all over Florida — from Homestead to the Panhandle. These producers range from small-scale farmers, to livestock producers, to processors, to large vegetable and fruit farms. Most fruits and vegetables that you can imagine are currently produced organically somewhere in our diverse tropical and subtropical climate.   

Organic producers who want to represent, market, and sell their product as organic must adhere to the National Organic Standards. The USDA National Organic Program was created to give assurance to consumers, protect organic farmers, and help grow the young organic industry. The verification process is very strict, and farmers must be able to clearly show that they comply with regulations.

Competitive Edge

Today, traditional farmers in Florida who have realized that the price for their crops fluctuates greatly from season to season and who often cannot break even, often consider organic farming as an alternative to improving their farm’s financial status. Compared to conventional food, organic food is often sold at a fair price for the farmer. Organic farming is usually more labor- and management-intensive, and farming tends to be on a smaller scale.

There are many advantages to becoming an organic producer. Organic ag is based on the principles of improving soil quality and protecting our natural resources. By implementing organic practices, farms in Florida can eliminate chemicals and nitrogen from leaching into their soil and water sources. As a consequence, organic farms can continue to grow crops even after other areas in the state have depleted their soils of nutrients or been driven out by poor sales or land development.  

Cover crops and other production practices could help reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and sequester more carbon into the soil, as well as reduce soil erosion. By reducing the use of pesticides and thus increasing biodiversity of organic farms, farmers in Florida could help restore habitats for beneficial native animals, insects, and plants.

Becoming an organic certified producer can open up new markets for organic producers in Florida. Thousands of tourists come to Florida every year. Many of these visitors are part of the growing population of consumers who want organic food.

For information about organic farming and/or certification, contact Florida Organic Growers at
education@foginfo.org.               

Marty Mesh is executive director of Florida Certified Organic Growers & Consumers Inc. in Gainesville, FL.

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