Plovgh is a cooperative of farmers, growers, and ranchers that sell directly to their customers.
"With Thanksgiving fast approaching and stomachs growling for some homecookin’, we made a special trip upstate to talk turkey with Farmer Ryan of Fitzgerald Farms who provided Plovgh members with fresh birds this holiday season.
After the two-and-a-half hour drive, we arrived at High Falls Co-Op where Ryan works four days a week when not tending to his poultry. He greeted us downstairs among the spices and shelves, and brought us out to his truck where the turkeys were kept cool.
“Turkeys are a big investment,” he told us as he loaded the plump birds into our car. While chickens typically need eight weeks to mature, turkeys require five and a half months. This holiday has been a long time coming for Ryan and his fellow farmers, and lucky for him, he sold over 500 turkeys this year.
Ryan grew up around chickens and is vehemently a poultry-over-produce kind of guy. “After seeing the work that went into growing vegetables, I thought it was too hard,” he confessed. Well, that’s alright with us – his fresh eggs and birds convince us that he made the right choice.
Once the coolers were filled to brim with turkeys, he wished us a “Happy Thanksgiving” and we were off for the city; Over the river and through the woods to bring you a fresh alternative this turkey day.”
Farm assurance can come in different forms with varying guidelines and fundamentals. What seems to remain constant among farms applying for certification is that they often do so because it indicates that the crops, livestock and other agricultural products they grow, raise or produce are done so in a manner that adheres to standards which imply a level of quality. In addition to quality management, certifications can also highlight principles of traceability, distribution, production and manufacturing methods, hygienic practices and the use of inputs.
Certification schemes can be based on trademarks or governmentally regulated standards, as well as provided through third party, independent agencies and organizations. Among the many recognized programs, the behemoth being the USDA governed National Organic Program, there are more than a dozen state departments of agriculture and over fifty private organizations that are accredited as organic certifiers. In addition there are non-profit and more product oriented programs such as Sustainable Seafood Certification, Protected Harvest, Rainforest Alliance, The Non-GMO Project, and many others.
National Organic Program
The National Organic Program is a regulatory program conducted by the USDA and is one of the more publicly recognized labeling programs among the agricultural industry. The standards and guidelines presented by the NOP indicate that crops, livestock or other agricultural products have been approved under a verifying system that takes into account production and management processes “that promote the existing ecosystem and conserve biodiversity”. The NOP regulations adhere to standards relative to production and handling, labeling, certification and accreditation. The program audits the use of inputs at the farm level and complies to guidelines that discredit production methods that involve synthetic fertilizers, irradiation and genetic engineering. The USDA accounts for the authorization of nearly 100 state appointed certifying agencies and the USDA Marketing Service maintains an open database of certifying agents and the operations they verify. Many third party, independent certifiers employ the NOP standards as a basic guideline to organic production, but there are many pundits who believe the USDA Organic label and the philosophies it represents have gone astray.
Certified Naturally Grown
CNG or Certified Naturally Grown is a recognized grassroots certification model that uses an approach to agriculture known as a Participatory Guarantee System. While other programs can require an exceeding amount of paperwork and certifying fees, this system is structured to minimize the barrier of entry by offering a peer-inspection process. CNG is organized around local networks of producers who use natural production methods (no synthetic inputs) and follow traditional organic practices. What sets CNG apart from the USDA organic process is that it is made up of and facilitated by the farmers who participate. The function of peer inspections can also help build a stronger community by creating opportunities for farmers to learn from each other, share techniques and develop support networks. You can find more information about their standards and a map of participating producers on their site.
Food Alliance is a national non-profit that provides third party certification of sustainable farming and food processing operations. The organization aligns itself with standards that ensure “safe and fair working conditions, humane treatment of animals, and careful stewardship of ecosystems”. This voluntary certification program works with farmers, ranchers and food processers - most are mid-sized or smaller family owned enterprises - and today it has certified over 330 farms and ranches in Canada, Mexico and the United States. What distinguishes Food Alliance from the national organic program is that it looks at sustainable agriculture from a more comprehensive perspective and believes that to ensure a sustainable food system the industry must account for social and environmental strategies not simply the substitution of inputs. You can read more about their certification guidelines here.
NOFA-NY Certified Organic, LLC
NOFA-NY Certified Organic is an example of one of the many state level programs that provides organic certification for producers. Authorized by the USDA National Organic Program, this locally organized NOFA branch facilitates farm and processing inspections by trained verifiers. State run programs such as this are unique in that they work with more mid to small size farms and the staff is equipped with better regional knowledge.
The Farmer’s Pledge is an alternative approach to certification that arose from an expressed need among producers to regain control of the term “organic” and what it stands for. Unlike traditional certification, the Pledge is a commitment made to customers and neighbors by certified or uncertified organic farmers that extends beyond the standards of the National Organic Program to include labor issues, community values and marketing approaches. First introduced in 2003, the pledge believes that “the heart of sustainable agriculture is in the integrity of the farmer.” The Farmer’s Pledge while not a substitution for organic certification is an effort by NOFA-NY to help people identify what farms they want to support and offer producers a way to communicate their practices with consumers.
Animal Welfare Approved
Animal Welfare Approved works only with family owned operations that raise their animals outdoors on pasture or range under humane conditions. Producers receive annual audits from AWA certifiers who oversee the animals’ lifecycle from birth to slaughter to ensure that the methods comply to stringent standards of good husbandry. Founded as a market-based solution to the growing interest in where our food is grown, raised and processed, the AWA program strives to offer transparency for consumers and a distinct way to identify the producers that raise their animals according to the highest welfare standards.
Slow Food is an internationally recognized grassroots movement that is made up of a huge network of supporters, members and localized chapters. Slow Food promotes the resurgence of regional food traditions and encourages people to seek out more information about the food they eat and its source. Supported by global and national advocacy as well as local projects and initiatives, the organization provides consumers with insight into real food access and raises public awareness about the importance of social, economic and environmental impacts on achieving a more sustainable food system. The Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity promotes products that follow organic certification standards and that are also ‘good, clean and fair.’
The Cornucopia Institute is a Wisconsin based non-profit that is devoted to increasing the awareness of the “family-scale” farming community and was established to offer greater transparency of organic standards and regulations. Through education, research and outreach the mission of the Cornucopia Institute is to provide consumers, farmers and the media with insight into organic policy and to protect “the integrity and meaning of the organic label”. As an alternative to the USDA’s organic accreditation program, the Cornucopia Institute developed a comprehensive rating system that provides scorecard ratings for products that carry a certified organic label.