What is Organic Farming? + 11 Key Benefits
What is organic farming? Does buying organic truly make a difference?
If you have been exploring the world of organic farming and foods, you’ve probably been wondering these very questions. We understand—there is a LOT of information out there. How do you know what to look for, which sources to trust, and what is best for the health of you and your family?
Knowledge is power, and at Painterland Sisters, one of our goals is to educate people like you on the benefits of organic farming. Let’s start with the basics.
Types of Organic Labels
First, it’s important to understand the difference between the three types of organic labeling you’ll see at the story.
As you shop for groceries, you will also see other products with the “USDA Organic” seal, pictured below.
This seal certifies that the U.S. government has worked with the National Organic Program to guarantee that the product passes federal regulations for organic standards. The USDA regulates the growth and processing of every product, from the land that is used to the plants and animals that are grown and harvested to the processing techniques, tools, and ingredients used with those products.
Every certified organic product is monitored, regulated, and approved at every step, from the land to the time it reaches your shopping cart. This seal means the federal government has declared the producer’s products as organic.
Made with Organic Ingredients
You may also see packaged products with the label “made with organic [specific ingredient or food group],” which means they contain at least 70% organically produced ingredients. The remaining non-organic ingredients are produced without prohibited practices (e.g., genetic engineering), but can include substances that are not allowed in 100% organic products.
Products with this label will not contain the USDA organic seal, but must still identify the USDA-accredited certifier. You can look for the certifier on a packaged product for verification that the organic product meets USDA’s organic requirements.
Finally, some products may simply use the word “organic” on their products. These claims are not regulated or verified by the government.
Next, we’ll look at how organic farming and operations work.
Organic Farming Definitions
The USDA organic regulations require that a USDA-accredited certifying agent verify a producer’s operations and products before they can be labeled as organic. Organic operations must demonstrate that they are:
- Protecting natural resources;
- Conserving biodiversity; and
- Using only approved crop, livestock, and processing inputs.
Organic Crop Farming
Organic crop farming is an agricultural system that uses natural pest control and fertilization methods, including cover cropping, crop rotation, and animal and plant waste.
Organic systems focus on healthy food, soil, plants, and environments as well as crop productivity. A key step of this is increasing organic soil matter (i.e., bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms), which helps to:
- Enhance the soil’s ability to absorb water, reducing the impacts of drought and flooding.
- Absorb and store carbon and other nutrients needed to grow healthy crops, which are better able to resist insects and diseases.
Simply put, the more organic matter, the healthier the soil!
Organic Animal Agriculture
Organic animal agriculture requires certified organic livestock, proper land management to keep pastures organic, and freedom for the animals to graze on open pastures. Both the certified organic livestock farm and the processing facilities used are inspected by a National Organic Program-accredited certifying agent at least once a year.
Organic livestock farming focuses on healthy, organic living conditions for the animals. This means accommodating the animals’ natural behaviors and supporting its health and welfare. They must be free to graze for the entire grazing season, which must be at least 120 days a year, and receive at least 30% of their nutrition from pasture. This system helps to:
- Foster healthy land by maintaining soil fertility and minimizing erosion and creating boundaries to prevent prohibited substances from permeating the organic fields.
- Raise healthier, happier animals that live longer lives and produce clean, nutritious food.
Organic products must be processed in a plant that uses strict sanitation practices necessary to prevent cross-contamination of organic and non-organic material. Any contact with non-organic products during the production process is considered contamination.
According to USDA regulations, organic food must not contain any artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors (with very few exceptions). This is why organic products sometimes have a shorter shelf life than non-organic items. In the case of multi-ingredient organic products, a minimum of 95% of the product must contain certified organic ingredients.
Next, we’ll take a look at the many benefits of organic farming to gain an even better understanding of how it all works.
Benefits of Organic Farming
For the Environment…
Organic farming has many positive effects on the environment, from the land to the animals to the people!
Healthy & Effective Soil
As mentioned above, organic farming promotes high-quality soil and carbon absorption by building organic soil matter. The soil has greater potential for long-term carbon storage, which leads to heartier crops and reduced soil erosion.
Healthy & Happy Animals
Of course, we can’t forget our furry friends! Organic farms raise healthier animals that live longer, happier lives. These animals are able to roam free on beautiful land, grazing clean, nutritious pastures.
Because the livestock consumes only organic food, the land is fertilized with their nutrient-dense organic manure, leading to healthy crops. This ensures a natural cycle where farmers know exactly what goes into their land and ends up in the products.
Perhaps the most well-known characteristic of organic production systems is that they do not use harmful chemicals (i.e., genetically modified seed, synthetic pesticides, or fertilizers). Instead, they use natural fertility and biological pest management.
Organic farming fosters clean waters thanks to practices like crop rotations and mulching, which increase the soil’s capacity to absorb and store moisture. Plus, the absence of pesticides and fertilizers means no toxic chemicals leaching into the waterways.
Additionally, organic systems promote biodiversity by creating diversified and non-toxic agricultural landscapes. This supports the health and population of our pollinator friends like bees, bats, and butterflies!
Safe & Healthy Farm Workers
Organic farm workers are also safer since they are not exposed to pesticides that can damage their health. Organic farms also invest in equipment to manually remove weeds. They typically use one or a combination of:
- Cultivator: Mechanically uproots the weeds in between rows of crops
- Flame-throwing Tractor: Tractors equipped with flame throwers and propane tanks to burn weeds
Check out how a flame-throwing tractor works below!
Smaller Environmental Impact
In addition to creating healthier environments, organic farms also have a much smaller carbon footprint. The Rodale Institute has found that organic systems use 45% less energy and release 40% fewer carbon emissions. To top it off, they use water management practices and release fewer greenhouse gases because they do not use synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
For the Economy…
Believe it or not, organic farming creates new economic opportunities for both the farmers and their local communities.
According to the Organic Farming Research Foundation, counties with high levels of organic agricultural activity and related business activities create real, long-lasting regional economic opportunities.
Profitable & Sustainable for Farmers
Not to mention, the Rodale Institute has found that organic systems produce yields up to 40% higher in times of drought and earn 3-6x greater profits for farmers.
Organic animal agriculture can also result in higher profits. According to a report by Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), organic dairy producers typically reduce their production numbers, yet improve their net income thanks to decreased costs in veterinary bills, fertilizer, and labor.
The report notes, “Organic livestock systems often cost less, thus can be a viable option for beginning farmers or those who have trouble raising capital, because those systems do not require elaborate or expensive housing.”
Cows, chickens, pigs, and lambs are raised on the open pasture, so their shelter from the elements is typically inexpensive easy-to-build structures.
This all goes to show that organic agriculture can certainly be as sustainable and profitable as conventional farming.
For You and Your Family...
Perhaps the most important question: Why is organic the right choice for my family?
Strict Organic Regulations
Organic farmers adhere to strict standards and management practices set by the National Organic Standards Board. Additionally, to be USDA Certified Organic, the USDA must ensure that a farm’s animals, land, and practices meet specific requirements.
The Mayo Clinic notes there is a growing body of research indicates potential health benefits of organic foods:
- Nutrients: Studies have shown small to moderate increases in some nutrients in organic produce, most notably in certain types of flavonoids. Flavonoids have antioxidant properties.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Organic meats, dairy, and eggs generally have higher levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids because organic feeding requirements call for ingredients like grass and alfalfa as the primary feed.
Painterland’s Organic Farming
At Painterland Farms, we go above and beyond to produce clean, safe, and healthy food for our community. We are a family-operated farm whose days depend on the needs of our land and animals, rather than our schedules or paychecks. Working together as a family gives us the benefit of constantly adjusting our processes to improve the farm as a whole and better serve our customers.
So, exactly how do we do this?
USDA Certified Organic
To remain USDA Certified Organic, we ensure that our farming protocols adhere to the USDA’s strict regulations mentioned above. For our organic dairy farm, this means we:
- Provide outdoor pasture to our animals.
- Do not use GMOs in any of our seeds, feed, or ingredients.
- Do not use antibiotics, or hormones.
- Nurture our crops with natural fertilizers.
- Remove our weeds physically instead of with chemicals.
- Feed our animals organic crops and grains.
- Do not use nitrites (preservatives used to cure meats); instead, we use natural nitrates like beets and celery powder.
We also take our organic farming practices a step further by using:
- Crop Rotation: Helps build up soil structure and nutrient levels
- Rotational Grazing: Prevents cows from overgrazing in one area and keeps land nutrient-rich
- Cow Diversity & Crossbreeding: Provides various types of beef and milk and assists with hybrid vigor (i.e., healthy calves)
Most importantly, Painterland practices what we call full-circle farming.
- We start by nourishing the land with natural organic manure that comes from our cows.
- We then plant and grow our hay and grain crops. We harvest, process, and store these crops ourselves.
- These crops are milled to create nutritional, balanced meals for our livestock.
- ...And the cycle continues!
Of course, there is a lot more that goes into the day-to-day care of an organic dairy farm! Learn more about how we farm and what it means for your food.
Ready for a taste of real organic dairy and meat? Shop our products today or contact us with any questions. We love talking shop and educating people about the benefits of organic farming!