What is Organic Farming? IFOAM, Certification and Organic Farming Methods

What is Organic Farming? Do farmers truly understand the term, and how sure can you be when you see something that is labeled "organic" ? We discuss the cornerstones of this concept, IFOAM and explain organic farming methods and systems as opposed to conventional farming methods.

Farming organically is a term that has been grossly misrepresented. It is not just a form of agricultural practice that uses compost, crop rotation and shuns modern chemicals and pesticides, and using natural pesticides and insecticides. Farming organically is more than that. It is a highly structured practice, conforming to very detailed production standards, which hopefully, if fulfilled will result in organic certification.

What is Organic Farming? - IFOAM

First and foremost, Organic Farming is monitored by an international body set up in 1972 - The International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movement (IFOAM). And I quote from their website: "The role of organic agriculture, whether in farming, processing, distribution, or consumption, is to sustain and enhance the health of ecosystems and organisms from the smallest in the soil to human beings."

Therefore, what we are talking about Eco-Agriculture and the key word here is health. Farming organically does not entertain genetically modified foods, battery-raised animals, additives to animal feed, or anything that is artificial in any way in agricultural practices.

organic farmers using 2 horses to plow the field

Organic Farming follows Traditional Farming Methods

There are 4 main principles of what Organic Farming is, as laid down by IFOAM:

What are the Organic Farming Principles?

  • 1. The Principle of Health
  • 2. The Principle of Ecology
  • 3. The Principle of Fairness
  • 4. The Principle of Care

So let us look at each principle individually.

Organic Farming and the Principle of Health

It stands to reason that if we grow food and raise animals on healthy soil then we will grow healthy crops and have healthy animals. The consequence of this is that we then eat healthy food, and, as a result have a healthy body. It is the sequential chain of reactions that relies totally on where it all starts: the soil.

People are concerned about food safety, particularly in light of the fact that there is serious concern that modern Agri-Farming practices that are not organic, have caused food allergies, asthma, and heart disease through artificial additives and chemical fertilizers that we ingest. Worse still there are diseases directly linked to irresponsible farming practices that ignore common sense. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy appears to have been caused by feeding cows, that are naturally herbivores, the remains of other cattle and bone meal in order to increase weight and early slaughter.

See our page on 4 reasons why you should be growing organic strawberries regarding all the chemical sprays and toxins that are administered to this fruit.

Organic Farming and the Principle of Ecology

We need to go back to what nature intended. It is to grow crops and raise animals on land that is enriched with compost and mulches that are well rotted because this is the most paramount of stages in organic farming. The aim is to get as much humus into the land as possible, and this includes manure, compost, seaweed, leaf-mold, spoiled hay, and anything of vegetable or animal origin, including blood and bone, that can go into making a compost heap and compost bin. The keyword here is recycling. There is the old adage; "Waste not, want not" and never so true in farming organically.

Any left over crops or wood should never be burnt on a property. This is an absolute waste of potential compost, and it is also a pollution contributor. Why burn it when you could use it and it isn't costing you anything? Why burn those vine cuttings and those orchard prunings? Invest in a chipper to reduce the bulk and add these to your compost heap. Organic farming should be about recycling.

What happens to your soil when it is healthy? It is filled with micro-organisms and those beautiful earthworms that delight the heart of those who care and produce wonderful vermicompost. Once you go worm farming and have earthworms in your soil you know that you are doing something right.

Remember too that organic farm methods mean you need to rest your soil and to use crop-rotation effectively. When you have a field at rest plant a cover crop, such as rye grass as a temporary planting in autumn. This protects the soil from wind and water erosion and adds organic matter. You can also grow cover crops such as legumes for soil improvement, called green manure crops, and are often left in place for six months to a year. Legumes are especially efficient because they "fix" nitrogen from the air into the soil.

In England more and more farmers are replanting hedgerows on their farms as they now realize how important they are. Many animals and insects use these hedges as part of their ecosystem, therefore when the hedgerows were removed, these little animals and insects then lost their natural shelters and an imbalance on the ecosystem resulted in an influx on insects that were unwelcome. They are also excellent wind-breakers and hold the soil in place to prevent soil erosion.

Organic Farming and the Principle of Fairness

Organic farming believes in fairness in that the land, its people and its animals should be respected and treated with care and justice. We are custodians of this land, and as such, the custodianship should be taken seriously. We should ensure that we never harm or damage the environment in any way. That our aim should be to ensure that we are doing everything in our power to produce healthy food for everyone, and that nothing that we do when we work the land is harmful in any respect to the soil and water that we use, the animals that we rear and those that consume the end product.

Animal rearing has always been controversial with the implementation of factory farming. Factory farming is inhumane where animals are kept in confined and overcrowded spaces, and in poor conditions where they maim each other just to fight for space and life. Animals have to be reared justly, and given open spaces to live. It acknowledges that there has to be a link between the animal and the soil and that their welfare and veterinary care is vital.

Organic Farming and the Principle of Care

Although this is last on this list of principles, I feel that it is probably the most important one. Because if one didn't care about the environment, the situation of where we are at the moment and the importance of providing healthy food for a healthy lifestyle, then we wouldn't embark on any of the above.

We need to care! This is the only planet that we have! It is also the only life we have, this is not a dress-rehearsal. This is the main event.

More Organic Resources:

Organic Farm Produce
Organic Vegetable Gardening

Some books you may enjoy on Farming Organically. Feel free to browse.

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