By Chris Adams

Harriet Behar, a specialist and inspector for the organic industry, says organics might be a small part of the agriculture sector but it has a promising future.

“We are very vibrant, we are growing, and we can feed the world,” said Behar, a senior organic specialist for the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service. She is also a member of the National Organic Standards Board, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program and sets organics standards.

Behar led National Press Foundation fellows through a description of the certification process, which all farms must go through in order to label their products as organic.

“What we are really looking to do is steward the environment – and not using toxic materials is part of that,” she said. “We are looking to promote ecological balance and promote biodiversity. Organic agriculture is more than just not hurting the environment, but also improving it.”

In a marketplace of competing claims and labels – “fresh,” “non-GMO,” “local” – “organic” is the only one that has a specific legal standard.

Among the steps in the process, organic farmers must choose a third-party certifying agency, which inspects the farm and observes its crops during the growing season. Inspectors look for the presence of any prohibited substances, check whether there are proper buffer zones between the organic and neighboring conventional operations, and document whether there has been proper rotation of crops. Conventional farms do not have such inspections.

Behar gave descriptions of the substances on the prohibited list; she also described the process for producing organic livestock, which according to the rules must have been under continuous organic management from the last third of the gestation cycle.