Choose Your Words Wisely
The dictionary defines the word organic as "of, relating to, or derived from living matter."
The USDA, however, only lets you call your farm organic if you go through the official certification process.
For Michael Hicks, the farming manager of Living Roots Ecovillage, organic simply means working with nature instead of trying to control it. Since he can't technically say the "O word," he uses a variety of other terms to describe how he grows food. "Most people just say chemical-free, or some people say natural... Eco-grown, you can use that term."
His farming is also machine-free. Living Roots does not use tractors or heavy machinery when harvesting the food. They harvest with people.
But in the long run, the words he uses aren't as important as the farming process itself.
It's A Lifestyle
Hicks was not always dedicated to the "organic" lifestyle. He co-founded Living Roots three years ago after completely changing his life path. He actually graduated with a business degree and then got a job in Texas working for an industry he now loathes -- big corporate chemical.
"Then I really started asking the question, ‘What's my bigger purpose here? What's gonna fulfill me in my life?'" he says. "And its not sitting at a desk being an accountant for the big chemical corporation that I was working for."
Most of our customers, they know our practices are really organic, and that that's the kind of farming that we do.
This idea of life fulfillment is still something Hicks and the rest of Living Roots focuses on, and it stretches beyond farming. Artists and other creative people who don't like the corporate work environment come to stay at Living Roots.
No Certification, No Problem
So they believe in this completely. They farm organic, live organic, everything organic, but they choose not to be certified.
Hicks felt it just wasn't worth it, and he should know because his farm used to be certified. He stopped his certification after becoming disenchanted with the process. He claims there were loopholes which allow less "organic" growers to still get the USDA label.
He also feels that organic farming is supposed to be about the chemical-free soil, but when certifying agencies came to Living Roots, they didn't test the soil.
Not being certified hasn't hindered Living Roots' success. They have over one hundred families that pick up produce on a weekly basis; they sell at various farmers markets; and they deliver their produce to various local restaurants.
Hicks believes the USDA organic label is intended for large farms, not family-sized operations like his.
"It's set up for shipping organic produce across the country, where you can't meet your farmer," he says. "Most of our customers, they know our practices are really organic, and that that's the kind of farming that we do."