On a Sunday afternoon, you head to the farmers market and decide to pay a bit more for eggs, strawberries and chicken breasts labelled as organic. But that label might not match what you’re actually buying.
NerdWallet recently discovered that some farmers falsely advertise their products as organic, a label that’s typically associated with environmental sustainability and health benefits.
1. ‘Are you certified organic?’
If the farmer shrugs or dodges this question, take that as a sign that those organic apples might not be what they appear.
Small organic farms that bring in $5,000 or less per year from sales are exempt from organic certification. Some farmers might use organic farming practices, yet opt out of the certification process because of the costs or extensive paperwork required — but they should be able to describe their farming methods.
2. ‘How do you control insects and weeds?’
This question should give you a clear sense of whether or not the grower uses synthetic pesticides. If they do, the food should probably not be labelled organic.
3. ‘How do you raise your animals?’
Organic meat and animal products, such as milk and cheese, tend to cost much more than the conventional kind. For example, organic chicken breasts cost an average of $7.19 per pound, compared with an average of $2.51 per pound for non-organic, according to the USDA. It’s especially important to evaluate how the animals are treated on organic farms to ensure you’re getting what you expect.
Find out what the cows eat and whether or not they’re given antibiotics. Learn how much time the chickens spend outdoors versus in a cage. If the answers are vague, ask more specific questions based on what you’re buying.
4. ‘Is everything here sourced from your farm?’
Some small farms rely on neighboring farms to fill their booth at the market, but the farmer should know his or her neighbors’ growing practices — especially if the products are touted as organic.