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The Food Lover's Guide: Organic

Photograph courtesy organic.org

A certified organic label ensures that your produce isn’t genetically modified, that it was grown in soil not tainted by chemicals for at least three years, and that it has never been treated with synthetic pesticides. In 2002, the USDA began overseeing the organic certification process, and now USDA-accredited agencies often charge farmers a hefty annual fee for the labeling rights, one practice that has pushed out a lot of mom-and-pop growers. “It’s not that the requirements are more stringent,” says Oxnard’s Maryann Carpenter, who with husband Paul has been growing organic produce for 23 years. “It’s just that we’d have to document every time my husband goes out to the fields, every time he waters, every seed he plants. We’d need a full-time employee to keep track.” Instead they changed the name of their company from Coastal Organics to Coastal Farms. “We continue to farm organically,” says Maryann. “We just can’t use the word ‘organic’ now that the USDA pretty much owns it.”