Organic renegades

This column isn't certified organic. Read it at your own risk.

To be certified organic, farmers have to jump through dozens of hoops. They have to keep detailed day-to-day records of everything that touches their crops. They have to go through rigorous inspections. They even have to write up an annual report describing every step in the journey from seed to sale.

It's hardly an organic process.

And that's why several local farmers who sell their crops at the Ashland Growers and Crafters Market — such as Shaina Bronstein of Walker Creek Farm in Central Point and Matt Suhr of Happy Dirt Farm in Ashland — haven't been certified organic, they said.

But they do grow their foods organically, shunning all pesticides, herbicides or genetically modified organisms, they said.

They're organic without the official label. They're organic renegades.

I'm all for renegades if they're real. And you can't get much more real than organic — in food or anything else.

"We work on trust and we're following the organic practices as best we know how," Suhr said Tuesday at the market on Wightman Street. "Why do we need the government to tell us what's OK?"

Both Suhr and Bronstein think organic certification serves a purpose by pointing out which foods are chemical-free in grocery stores. But if you're buying locally, straight from the hands that have tilled the soil, they think trust should suffice.

"People can come look in my shed and see what I use," Suhr said. "That seems adequate to me."

Just because a farm is labeled organic, doesn't mean it's necessarily following the best ecological practices, Bronstein said.

"Organic certification doesn't talk about not using plastic or other things that are maybe even more important than being 100 percent chemical free," she said.

But there's no doubt that organic farms are greener than conventional farms, said Bronstein, who holds a degree in plant and soil science from the University of Massachusetts.

"There's a lot of debate over whether organic is more healthy, but there's no question that it's more ecologically responsible," she said.

"I don't like to work with chemicals, I don't want people eating them and I don't want them going into my water or animals."

Everything that can be grown conventionally in the Rogue Valley can be grown organically here, Bronstein said.

"It's just more work. But as you can see," she said, pointing to her crisp lettuce and hearty heirloom tomato starts, "you can do it."

Anything organic is more work. And that's what makes it better.

As I write this, I'm hanging out with my friend Scott Garriott as he does his Tuesday night radio show, "Neon Madman's Radio," on KSKQ. Our conversation has segued from organic food to organic everything. Because a lot more than farming can be organic. Music, writing and — drum roll please — life can be organic. Or it can be synthetic.

"I think organic art is similar to organic food in the sense that it doesn't taste better or feel better to everyone in every situation, but it is better for you," Garriott said.

And that's true even if it isn't certified.

Certifications, useful as they may be, only go so far. Just because something lacks an organic label, doesn't mean we shouldn't consume it, if we trust whoever cultivated it.

As soon as they start trying to certify columns as organic, I'm revolting. I'll join up with the other organic renegades.

We're confident everything that can be cultivated conventionally here can be cultivated organically. As Bronstein said, it just takes more work.

Reach reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or For past columns see

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