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Organic Farming Sustains Popularity Despite High Costs

Jeff Groves, the owner of Williston Blueberry Farm, gives samples of his pesticide-free blueberries to customers at the Union Street Farmers Market on Wednesday in Downtown Gainesville.
Jeff Groves, the owner of Williston Blueberry Farm, gives samples of his pesticide-free blueberries to customers at the Union Street Farmers Market on Wednesday in Downtown Gainesville.

Gainesville organic farms are flourishing despite the higher costs associated with their product, reflecting a growing national trend.

The number of organic farms in Florida has more than doubled in the past two years, said Sam Jones-Ellard, spokesman for the United States Department of Agriculture. There were 153 farms in 2011 and 315 in 2013.

In the United States, about 12,880 organic farms existed in 2011. By 2013, the number of farms and processing facilities totaled 18,513, according to the list of certified operations.

Organic farms differ from their conventional counterpart in that farmers cannot use synthetic fertilizers, genetic engineering, irradiation or sewage sludge, according to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

As organic farming grows in popularity, many farmers are exploring the option of certification. This process allows them to access programs that help with funding, education and other necessities for their farms.

Jones-Ellard said in order for farms to gain organic certification, a certifying agent has to write an Organic Systems Plan, a requirement by the USDA’s National Organic Program. This document contains detailed records of the farm and its operations, and is used as a measuring tool to ensure all organic regulations and standards are being met.

Farms must be inspected and recertified each year to maintain their certification.

Amy Van Scoik, an owner of Alachua County’s Frog Song Organics, chose to have her farm certified as organic because she felt the certification would help her sell her produce more freely.

However, smaller farms that make less than $5,000 a year are exempt from having to go through the organic certification process, Jones-Ellard said.

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These farmers choose to cultivate organic fruits and vegetables for the benefit of their communities.

One such uncertified grower is Williston Blueberry Farm.

Jeff Groves, the owner of Williston Blueberry Farm, said he prefers organic farming.

Groves said the cost of cultivating an organic farm is considerably more expensive due to the extra labor it takes to care for the produce without using chemical filled weed and bug killers, but the benefits are more important than the costs.

“It’s your labor, your cost, your weeding – that’s what gets [the costs] much higher,” he said.

Fay Huebner, an owner of the uncertified Shiloh Organics, agreed that organic growing takes more labor and money. She said normal simple tasks, such as keeping pests away, cost more because organic farming products tend to be more expensive.

Despite the high cost of production, Huebner said Shiloh Organics tries to price its vegetables as close to the market price as possible. She said while they do try to get the money out of it that they put in; it is more of a service for the community.

“It is not the extra nutrition you get from eating organic, but all the things that you are missing, like the pesticide residue and all the urban residue and genetically engineered stuff,” she said.

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