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MDA advises: Look for certified organic labels on farm goods

This USDA Organic logo can only be used by farms or companies that have been certified organic by an accredited agency.

As farmers markets begin opening for the season, more Minnesotans will be buying and preparing fresh, locally grown foods.

For consumers interested in buying organic products, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) advises looking for the USDA organic label, certifier seal, or asking to see an organic certificate. All provide evidence that the product was grown on farms that are inspected each year to ensure compliance with the nationwide organic standards.

For example, organic farmers must use organic seeds and must refrain from using most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. They must provide organic feed to their animals and ensure the animals are allowed outside every day. Animals such as cows and goats must graze on pasture during the growing season. Organic farmers are also required to protect and conserve soil and to rotate their crops to help prevent disease and weeds.

For small farms that sell less than $5,000 of organic products in a year, following the rules is still required but certification is optional. If a farmer says he or she is not certified, it's a good idea for consumers to ask them if they are following the national organic standards.

MDA organic program administrator Meg Moynihan advises consumers to beware of claims like "beyond organic," "organically grown," or "grown using organic practices."

"Sometimes these claims are made by farmers who are honestly unaware of the organic standards," said Moynihan. "But sometimes the claims are used by people who want to reap the benefits of the word "organic" but not necessarily follow all the requirements that true organic farmers have to meet."