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Affordable Alternatives to Certified Organic

In the post, Make Your Organic Dollars Count, we looked at how we can prioritize the organic purchases we make to get the biggest bang for our buck. This is for those of us who are not able to eat exclusively organic. We also know that to obtain the coveted USDA Certified Organic label there is quite a bit of administration work, inspections and consequently cost that goes into the process.

But what about those farmers and farms that do it the right way? That steward their land well, use herbicides or pesticides that are more naturally derived just like organic (if used at all) and care about the quality of the produce they are growing but do not have the USDA Certified Organic labeling.

If these farms use natural or organic standards in their farming, they may not be able to put out the money to go through and obtain Certified Organic status. Or maybe they meet some or most of the criteria to be considered organic but are not able to compete in the marketplace if they do everything involved in the process. And what they do could be sufficient for your needs and criteria for quality, fresh food.

Other Food Quality Certifications

Besides the USDA Certified Organic label there are other food quality certifications that are worth knowing about. You might see certification from the Food Alliance. For their certification process they look at more than just the primary certified organic standards. Here is a brief explanation that they provide:

…the national organic certification standard is not a total solution for all the challenges found in agriculture and the food industry. It doesn’t guarantee, for example, that workers are treated well, that animals are raised humanely, or that wildlife habitat is protected and enhanced. Many organic farmers are also dissatisfied with the national organic standard and use the term “beyond organic” to describe their individual efforts to address these and other issues.

Another certification is Certified Naturally Grown. This is something that smaller farms that meet the standards of organic, but do not want to pay for the Certified Organic label, can go through to verify their growing standards. This certification has the same or even more requirements as Certified Organic but does not cost farmers as much, has less paperwork burden and uses a peer review system for inspections.

There is also the Non-GMO Project, who provides a verification that the product is not a genetically modified organism (GMO) or verifies that GMOs were not used when a company created their product. Some people prefer not to eat GMO but are more relaxed when it comes to the use of herbicides and pesticides on their food, so this is where this labeling would be helpful versus looking for Certified Organic.

It is helpful to know what other certifications exist as they can help when making food purchases. These certifications are helpful in feeling confident that what you are buying has gone through some sort of formal verification process and are not just false claims that the farm or company has made.

Buy Local

Often, I look to support local farms as much as possible to get the freshest food I can with least amount of impact on the environment. It is crazy how long food, even when labeled “fresh”, can be tied up in transit before getting packaged and being available at the grocery store, this includes meat products and not just produce.

It is great to be able to talk with the people who grow and sell the food you are purchasing. You can ask any questions you have about how they grew or raised it and even ask for advice on how to cook it!

Here is a short list of different options to look for when wanting to know where to buy local produce and animal products:

  • Farmers Markets – these are locations that different farms can come and set up stands with their products. There are also many types of stands ranging from technology gadgets to homemade blankets to bakery goods. These are often open on a set day and time during the week.
  • Markets at Large Farms –  these markets sell the products from the farm and they often will sell items from other local farms that grow, raise or produce something that is not done by the large farm.
  • Roadside Stands – these can be larger operations that are set up daily or just on the weekends. Or can be as small as someone selling their extra produce from their home garden at the front of their house.
  • Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) – this is a way to pre-purchase your produce from a local farm over the span of a growing season. You purchase a share or shares of the harvest that you get on a regular basis during the harvest, usually Spring-Fall depending on what is grown and how the CSA operates.
  • Natural Food Stores – these specialty stores often source their products locally and with the requirement of organic or naturally grown.
  • Some Grocery Stores – there is a growing trend for some large grocery stores to source local products and these are often marketed as such.

To learn more in detail on these options, check out How to Buy Local for Your Food.

Grow or Raise Your Own

Another way to know what it is you are actually getting is to grow your own. This gives you the ability to know exactly what you are growing from the seed, to the soil it is grown in and what is put on the plant. Or if you raise your own, you know and control what is fed to the animal and how it is raised.

Obviously this can be time consuming and even expensive, depending on what all you do to control your growing environment. Yes, I was one of those crazy people who actually ordered my soil, peat moss, etc. for my garden to try and ensure that it would only produce what I considered perfect and unadulterated fruit and vegetables. But one house move later I am left with some challenging obstacles to overcome to get back into the gardening world, these include lack of time, terrain and animals from our beautiful woods.

Fruit and veggie display


As the Rolling Stone so aptly put it, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, but maybe there is a better way to look at nourishing our bodies than where we are right now.

I do not think anyone would say that they want to eat food that has chemicals that are unnecessary for the body, but what we need to determine is the best way to realistically reduce this toxic load for ourselves and the environment.

We can do this by eating organic or naturally grown, whether it is certified or done just in practice. Properly cleaning our fruits and vegetables is also helpful in reducing toxic load, regardless if they are organic or not.

There are many stories of improvement to overall health or addressing specific health issues from making the switch to organic or more naturally grown food. These are all encouraging and motivating to continue to address and improve in this area of wellness.

Do you already do one or more of these ways to source fresh and healthy produce, meat or other products? What works best for you or what do you want to try doing? 

Disclaimer: For informational and educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. If you have a health concern, a medical condition, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or are taking any medication please consult your healthcare provider.