Is Organically Grown the Same as Certified Organic?

September 27, 2019

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To live a truly clean, organic lifestyle, it might not be enough to rely solely on that little green and white symbol you see on packaged foods. While certified organic goods are always preferable to conventionally grown food, your best bet is doing your own research and knowing exactly where your food comes from.

What’s in the Label? USDA Certified Organic

By now, you’ve probably seen that USDA Organic circular seal placed on packaged produce and other goods at the grocery store and markets. A registered trademark of the US federal government, it communicates to consumers that the items they are purchasing meet strict standards, and the farm that produced it underwent a certification process. 

The standards aim to prevent organic-certified farmers from using

  • toxic and synthetic pesticides or fertilizers

  • genetically modified ingredients (GMOs)

  • antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones

  •  artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives, and 

  • sewage sludge or irradiation. 


These nasty substances have been suspected—and in many cases, found—to be harmful to human and environmental health. 

When the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) became law in 1990, it sought to define and standardize organic agriculture under the umbrella of the National Organic Program (NOP).  The intention was to protect the consumer, by ensuring that foods marketed, labelled, and sold as “organic” in the United States were truly organically grown.

So what is “Organically Grown”?

Not surprisingly, organic growing practices used by local farmers—such as those you might see at farmers markets today—actually predate USDA organic certification and have been used for years. In fact, the organic certification process grew directly out of that grassroots organic movement.

Today, many growers at farmers markets sell organically grown produce at their stands. Many start their harvest from seeds that are heirloom, organic, non-GMO or saved from the previous year. They control pests with biodegradable pesticides and use organic fertilizers made from plant and animal sources. They use compost and manure to ensure healthy soil, and forego chemical herbicides such as glyphosate. Sound familiar?

Small-Scale Farms Grow Authentic Organics, Too

Due to the time and financial commitment it takes to seek USDA organic certification, some small-scale farmers using organic farming methods decide to bypass certification. 

And truthfully, the USDA organic certification process and its oversight feel a bit like a David vs. Goliath story to some small producers. According to the Cornucopia Institute, the USDA organic program’s oversight board—dubbed the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB)—is made up mainly of representatives from large corporationsrather than family-farm reps. 

Like most industries in recent years, the high-profit organic industry itself is not immune to acquisitions by corporate behemoths. Over time, this has reduced the number of organic producers to a smaller few parent corporations, leading to an imbalance in whose interests are represented in the industry. The small farmer seems to have been sidelined in this corporate expansion process.

An Imperfect System

Some of the issues small farmers face can potentially affect consumers as well. For example, because there are holes in the oversight process, “organic fraud” does exist, despite the label. Fortunately, the Organic Trade Association has organized its members to help in its prevention.


Although the organic certification program is run by a federal entity and the standards are legally protected by legislation, the organic program is still subject to the whims of politics on occasion. In July of 2019, one of the USDA organic standards that prohibits the use of GMOs was called into question. During a House Agriculture Subcommittee hearing, the Under Secretary of Agriculture Greg Ibach invited discussion to potentially “allow gene editing to be part of organic production.”

The Solution? It’s Simple: Know Your Farmer.

While the world of organics can sometimes seem dependent upon the power structures at play, there are still things you can do to ensure your food is high-quality and organically grown.

First and foremost: get to know your local organic farmer. (Meet ours, Farmer Curt.) 

While you can still place trust in products stamped with the USDA organic seal, it’s also a good idea to scout out small-scale growers at local farmers markets, stands, and CSAs, and ask the right questions. These folks work hard to bring you healthy, unique veggies and fruits that are local to your area, and they use farm practices that support regional biodiversity rather than monoculture.

No Worries, Ned’s Hemp Plants are Organically Grown

When it comes to our full-spectrum hemp oil, we prioritize quality, plain and simple. We were thrilled to find Farmer Curt, who has been experimenting with hemp plants for over a decade and has dialed in the exact strains for maximizing cannabinoid density, terpene content, and overall plant integrity. 


When the farm isn’t keeping him busy, he’s also working on the process of certifying the farm as biodynamic—which goes way beyond USDA certified organic to bring you the highest-quality, organically grown, full spectrum hemp oil on the market.


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