The Locavore: Organic Certification Is Costly, but Help Is on the Way for Athens Farms | Flagpole Magazine | Athens, GA News, Music, Arts, Restaurants

By Jodi Cash, Posted March 18, 2015

Although agriculture is the leading industry in Georgia, less than one percent of the state’s farms are organic. As of December 2014, there were merely 70 certified organic farms in Georgia. Georgia does have a larger number of Certified Naturally Grown farms—130 to be exact.

There is little reason to embellish on the merits of organic farming practices—sustainability in a world with a growing population, safety from pesticides, and (although they are not necessarily mutually inclusive) people eating organic food are often concerned about eating food that’s in season and locally produced. But all moral factors aside, it cannot be debated that in the organic industry, there is money to be made.

Organic food sales have skyrocketed in recent years, jumping by double digits for the last four. Herein lies the catch. Although organic farming can be remunerative (comparatively speaking), the cost of becoming certified is prohibitive for many. It can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars. In recent years, Georgia farmers were often encouraged to take the less costly Certified Naturally Grown route—developed in 2002 as an alternative to U.S. Department of Agriculture organic certification—if they were concerned with sustainable practices.

In an effort to help Georgia farmers take advantage of the growing organic market, Georgia Organics and the Georgia Department of Agriculture have teamed up to launch the 100 Organic Farms Campaign.

“We want to get 30 new organic farms in the next 18 months,” says Alice Rolls, the executive director of Georgia Organics, a nonprofit that promotes organic food and farming. “That’s an aggressive goal, but we’re going for it.”

The organizations will help make the ambitious goal a reality by reimbursing the cost of certification to participating farmers getting certified organic for the first time. The Georgia Department of Agriculture will fund 75 percent (as much as $750 per farm), and Georgia Organics will pick up the remaining 25 percent (as much as $250 per farm).

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