Certification rules put true organic producer out of business
Local Journalism Initiative
One of the Townships’ most ardent promoters and practitioners of a healthy, local, and organic food system has been sidelined by the rules that are supposed to protect that system.
Brian Creelman and his Seeds for Food farm in Bishopton were told last year to “cease and desist” all mention of “organic” because he is not officially certified. He was selling about $5,000 worth of seeds annually—at farmers’ markets, seed fairs, outlets like Clark & Sons in Lennoxville, and by order form.
With that amount of income, it’s hard to justify the time and money involved in getting an official organic certification.
It all started with an email inquiry from a potential new customer early last year. The customer wanted to know whether Creelman was certified organic or not. After a few email exchanges, in which Creelman explained his approach, the potential customer posted criticism on Facebook against people who aren’t certified. A month and a half later, Creelman was contacted by a representative of the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture’s branch set up to protect labelling, ordering him to stop using the term “organic” to describe his seeds.
He complied by taking down his Web site and putting all seed sales on hold.
Creelman has been growing his own food and producing seeds for over 30 years and selling to the public since 2012. He joined the organization Seeds for Diversity Canada in 2008 and was one of the four founders of the Lennoxville Farmers’ Market. (This reporter was one of his customers and was given a tour of his farm several years ago.)
Opposed in principle to simply replacing his use of “organic” with something like “natural,” Creelman says, “I’ve been in a fog and funk” over what to do, “but here we are in January.”
Normally, you could find his company listed in the annual seed guides of publications like Small Farm Canada, which appear at this time of year as market and home gardeners start planning for the summer and ordering their seeds. Creelman was a pillar of local supply for heirloom, organically produced seeds in the Eastern Townships, certified or not.
“It really bugs me that I’m not allowed to use the term,” he said in a recent interview. “If you ever want to find someone who believes in this it’s me.”
Creelman said he feels that the organic movement has now been coopted by industrial agriculture and that certification means only a minimum standard that has little to do with the original principles of healthy, local food, and “preserving and promoting autonomy and sovereignty in the food system”—the motivation behind his seed business.
“I’m not against the integrity aspect,” he said of certification, “but I want to keep it human.”
While he complied with the cease-and-desist order, he would have liked to respond that “your system is scale insensitive… The system is too big; it’s not human. It’s going to undermine the credibility of the whole movement eventually… I’m philosophically against the Amazonification of everything… When the scale gets so damn large, you get this pass-the-buckism.”
He also recognizes that there are good arguments for and against the rules, and that “I’m an example of the collateral damage.”
“Even though I produced seeds last summer, I’m not selling now because of this. It’s sucked the wind out of my sails.”
“I’m not doing this to make a quick buck. I’m trying to do something good in society,” he added.
“Hopefully, next year I’ll pick it up again.”
Scott Stevenson farms and writes at his home in Newport, Quebec. He reports on individual Townships’ farmers biweekly for Brome County News and reviews the farm news biweekly for the Record.