Some farmers look Beyond Organic

Nov 12, 2011

By Jeremy Bernfeld (Harvest Public Media)

Some organic farmers don’t want to have their products labeled Certified Organic. For them, the Certified Organic label doesn’t go far enough. They want to go Beyond Organic.

“It depends on what’s important to you. Certified Organic -- if you’re looking to not have pesticides in your food, you’re much more likely to not have pesticides in your food,” said Donna Schill, a freelance journalist who made a  short documentary on the Beyond Organic movement in Iowa.

For the USDA to certify food as organic, it has to be grown in a way that promotes ecological resources. “Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used,” according to the USDA’s website.

Beyond Organic, though, is a much looser movement and may not even have a definition. Many Beyond Organic farmers sell their products locally, raise animals on pasture and use as many resources as possible from their own farms.  Some consumers see Beyond Organic processes as extra benefits, as Schill found in her film.

“As a customer, it’s about what’s important to you in the way your food is grown,” Schill said. “Certified Organic doesn’t encompass everything.”

Many Beyond Organic farmers choose not to go through the USDA’s organic certification process, because they feel it shortchanges the agricultural philosophy they employ. That can leave organic food stores hamstrung and organic foodies confused.

Beyond Organic is a national movement, but Schill found an active Beyond Organic community in Iowa.

While working on a story about restaurants in Iowa City buying locally grown produce, Schill met a farmer who said not all organic food was created equally.

Did you know there was a controversy within the organic food movement? Neither did Schill.

She interned with local Beyond Organic farmers and met farmers and consumers at farmer’s markets as part of her research for her 20-minute documentary.

What she found is a very personal movement based on a personal connection between food, farm and table. 

Some say the organic certification process is expensive and time-sucking. Others cheer it as a useful tool for consumers. Either way, the organic and Beyond Organic food movements have shoppers looking carefully at the food they’re buying.

Schill’s documentary is scheduled to air on Iowa City’s KCRG 9.2 digital television channel several times this month, beginning Nov. 8.