Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Certifying madness

"You can't regulate integrity"

I don't claim to be the creator of this phrase, but nonetheless, I love it.  Wish, in fact, that I had said it first.

But I didn't, of course.  This is Joel Salatin's phrase, that rebel pasture farmer from the US, who is somewhat of a hero to small farmers like me.  I like people like him...people who say what is on their mind, and aren't afraid to think a bit differently.  Ruffle a few feathers, as it were.

I think about this phrase frequently when I come across some people and situations in the course of doing what I do.  And I think, with so many regulatory bodies and checks and balances in place, it is even more important to consider this thought when you buy your food.'

"You can't regulate integrity."

But everyone tries.

The fact you can't is everywhere.

No more evident of course than government.  There are all kinds of checks and balances and red tape in government, but government officials and employees are frequently highlighted for misdoings.

Banks, red taped to the hilt, rip people off.  Advertising blatantly lies to people in order to make a buck.  The  "it's all good" campaign of a major food manufacturer, and the"real" campaign of a mayo maker have made me a tad cynical.
I love the" You're richer than you think" ads.  Wish I was, but know I'm not.

What to believe, I wonder.  I also hope people don't believe it all.

Natural, local and even organic are not always what they appear to be.

Certified organic has had it's share of folks who have been found to not to be going along with the regulations which govern certification. What about all the others?
 Certified naturally grown, certified locally grown, certified humane, certified fair trade.  And there's more, no doubt. A financial burden to the farmer who certifies and a way of distancing people from the source of their food, by allowing a certifying body to stand between them.

It seems to me there was a point in time where people trusted themselves to make decisions about food they bought, or other products as well, without this third party being necessary.
I recall reading a brochure a few years back promoting certified organic.  In it was the notion that people aren't really capable of deciding if produce is organic or not.  They need to be told it is by the presence of a certified label.

I find when I sell produce, the word "organic" doesn't come into it much anymore.  Of course it can't, because I am not certified.  But it also doesn't because it is not the driving point behind what I do.  I sell good food, I am honest and I do what I say I do.  Simple.  And there are lots of people like me. I know some true gems, who are honest to a fault.

And of course I come back to the idea that as long as a system is in place, people will do their darndest to get around it.

I think the most important thing is the relationship you develop with the person you buy your food from.  And sadly, it does not necessarily follow that certified IS what it claims to be or by virtue of the fact a person is a grower or farmer they are "salt of the earth."

I think most growers who have been around a while can think of people they know who buy produce in, claiming it to be their own, claim to be organic and aren't, or would stab you in the back to make a buck.

I know most people don't buy local because of the cost and inconvenience.
But if you do go that extra distance, trust your own judgement.  If you like the person you buy from, if they are open to you seeing where and what they do....if they strike you yes, as a person of integrity, then you've hit the jackpot.  Can't certify that!

 But you can feel good about it.


rob said...

You make some really good points, Linda, but I'm not sure you're giving certification the credit it deserves. Sure, it doesn't offer an ironclad guarantee (no system ever will) but it's far better than no system at all.
There are lots of situations (the majority for most people) where the consumer cannot develop a relationship with the producer, and that's where certification offers a level of assurance. I'm certified, but that fact certainly does not "stand between" me and my market customers, and it does mean something to the people who shop at the stores I supply.
If you can market everything you produce directly to people who know and trust you, that's fantastic, and more power to you, (and if you've got suggestions to improve the certification system please share them,) but please don't throw stones at a system that attempts to facilitate trust between farmers and consumers who do not enjoy that privilege.

Linda said...

Thanks for reading, Rob.
I do hear you, but I think we'll agree to disagree on some things. If certification is your thing, that is fine...we all see things differently. There is a huge philosophical gap between many people who certify and those who don't. i've also had lots of stones hurled at me because i choose not to certify. Most basic, of course, is the fact that i can't use organic to describe what I have done for the last 14 years.
I really am not sure these systems that are in place are better than no system, and in my mind the many system(s) of certification have run amuck.
I don't always sell to people I know either, but I do sell regardless. I'm not saying I'm that great, trust me, but people know my farm name because i've worked hard to sell quality.

Sincere best wishes from the opposite point of view!