Organic Growing: Getting Started

Growing organically can seem overwhelming to those of us without a spread of certified acreage and the resources of a facility like the University of Tennessee.  When UT Vegetable Specialist Annettee Wszelaki gave me a tour of the UT Organic Research Farm near Knoxville, I asked her about getting started.

For aspiring growers or family farmers wanting to convert to USDA Organic certification, research farms like this are an ideal place to start.  The facility is hosting another Field Tour on April 28.  Plus, it has rotating programs offered at various farms around the state.  The university's website includes convenient links to the latest news about crop production and USDA guidelines.

Because several small farmers have commented to me that it's too difficult or expensive to obtain USDA Organic certification, I asked Wszelaki more about that.  The paperwork and certification fees can seem cost prohibitive to some.  She noted that among the certifiying organizations, Tennessee has a reciprocal relationship with the Kentucky  Department of Agriculture.  Due to their close proximity, they might be less expensive to use than some of the private certifying groups in states farther away from Tennessee.  She also suggested that a small grower might check into the Certified Naturally Grown program, where growers certify other growers and the certification fees are on a donation basis.

Wszelaki and her colleagues are teaching that organics involves the entire system of where and how our food is grown.  For the beginning gardener, she encourages that even if you aren't tracking down organic seeds or plants, it's okay to buy conventional plants and manage them naturally from there.  You can make compost to enrich the soil and use more natural growing methods like those practiced at the research farm.

Organics 101 Down on the Farm

To Market, To Market

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