Mar 25, 2021
Being organically-certified and sustainable : Editor’s letter
Stephen Kloosterman

A Monday morning in frigid February during an interminable pandemic is a good time to ask yourself: “Am I sustainable?”

Being sustainable means you’re in it for the long-haul – that you can keep doing it year after year. It’s a useful descriptor for organic growers who handle the earth with care and are USDA-certified to not use any synthetically-derived chemicals as agricultural inputs.

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Stephen Kloosterman

Unfortunately, “sustainability” as a word causes many in the organic sector to cringe, and that’s mostly because it’s gotten a bad rap from marketers writing it on the packaging of all sorts of foodstuffs. Are all of those products from organically-certified farmers? No, but the grower or brand owner has a sustainability plan, and a marketing office wants consumers to know about it. So, there they are in the grocery store: sustainable foodstuffs. The occasional stretching of the word “sustainable” has associated it with what hardcore earth-lovers and growers call “greenwashing” – making exaggerated claims of environmental stewardship.

Have you ever witnessed, in-person, a debate between a “sustainable” practitioner and a certified organic grower, over who was better? I did once. I hope I never do again. The arguments are as predictable as they are heartfelt, and they tear me up.

I’d like to challenge organic growers to own the term sustainable, while not abandoning a bit of the organic branding. Be proud to call yourselves “organically certified and sustainable,” or some variation of those terms.

Because of the certification process, organic growers are uniquely qualified to use that term. But just don’t just call yourself sustainable only based on your organic chops. Look out at your acres and remember all the times you went the extra mile, and then tell those stories. Here’s a short example: I worked on a dairy farm’s rock-picking crew exactly once. It wasn’t an organic farm, and didn’t claim to be, but the crew’s matriarch prided herself on chasing down every scrap of plastic seen. She didn’t like plastic lodged for perpetuity in the soil that grew the cow feed. She was, in her own way, trying to be a sustainable grower.

Everything I’ve written above is an introduction to something new. Organic Grower’s parent company in 2021 will recognize a grower or farming operation that has put in major efforts to improve sustainability in their operation.

Our sponsor for the award is Valent U.S.A., which has many products listed by the Organic Materials Review Institute.

“Our ambition is to power continuous improvement of growers and retailers, and this award will recognize those who embody that goal,” said Matt Plitt, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Valent U.S.A.

That’s an ambition to which we all may aspire.

Nominate a friend, or nominate yourself, at

Stephen Kloosterman is the managing editor of Organic Grower.

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