Years ago, I remember telling my husband, ‘this whole organic thing is such a scam. I’ll never buy it.’

Um, okay……I’ll have my words with a side of collard greens, please?

Seriously. Hard to imagine now but that was my mentality.

Maybe that’s you? Or your spouse? Maybe you ‘buy the hype’ it but you still don’t quite know where to start? Maybe you are embarrassed to ask because you feel like you should already know?

The past 2 years of learning-as-we-go in the co-op has provided some amazing insight. At one point, I was simply uninformed and, while my knowledge is growing, the world around us continues to become more confusing to the consumer.

A trip to the grocery store has become a guessing game. Professional marketing campaigns volley us back and forth between labels, gimmicks and color psychology. (Yes, Psychology of color has been a major factor in determining what you are going to buy and how you will buy it.)

Where do you start and how do you become an advocate of your own health?

Let’s start with the basics…



Organic is a certification by the USDA. A farmer or business may not claim their foods are organic unless they receive this government certification.

The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) defines organic as follows:

Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too. (1)

So, we know to become certified as organic, animals need to be given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Food must be free of conventional pesticides, synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge and bioengineering or ionizing radiation. Simple enough, right?

Well, not quite.

First, let’s look at labels on food packaging…

For years, we have been taught to check our labels for calories, fat, carbs, ingredients, etc. Therefore, we assume if a product contains the word organic on the label we can be confident we are buying organic. However, our assumption may not always be fact.

The USDA Guidelines for organic products tell us:

(NOTE: Organic food standards vary from region to region.)

  • ‘100% Organic’ indicates 100% organic ingredients.
  • ‘Organic’ indicates 95% Organic ingredients. (This is the most common label I’ve seen.)
  • ‘Made of organic ingredients’ indicates that 70% of the ingredients are organic.
  • ‘Contains some organic ingredients’ indicated less than 70% of that product has organic ingredients. (2)

Just when this couldn’t get more confusing, let us move on to fruits & veggies.

Decoding Produce…

 Have you ever thought of the little stickers on produce other than they can be annoying to remove? The sticker indicated a Price Look Up (PLU) number and often carries a barcode.

  • A 5-digit number starting with a 9 indicates organic.
  • A 4-digit number starting with a 3 or a 4 indicates the item was probably conventionally grown.
  • A 5-digit number starting with an 8 indicates a GMO.

According to, a GMO,

(…. has genes from other organisms). You won’t see many of those because only genetically modified versions of corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, papaya, and squash are now widely sold.

And because PLU codes aren’t mandatory, companies can label those items as conventional. The problem is that although an estimated 60 to 70 percent of food items sold, including packaged goods, have genetically modified ingredients, little is known about the long-term effects of consuming them, and concerns have been raised about an increase in allergies and other health issues. (3)


Did you read the fine print from Consumer Reports above? If you skimmed, may I recommend a quick re-read? It’s crucial to understanding GMOs.

Over 60 countries around the world require GMO foods to be labeled. The US does not require the labeling; therefore, the NON-GMO Project was created to give consumers the ability to make an informed choice.

The NON-GMO Project is a non-profit organization based in Washington dedicated to building and protecting a non-GMO food supply in the US. Products that have been verified as non-GMO by this organization are indicated by an orange butterfly in a light blue background.

So, what is a GMO?

A GMO is a genetically modified organism who genetic make-up has been modified by gene splicing, gene modification or some type of transgenic technology. It is a NEW science that creates unstable genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods. (4)

The GMO debate has caused controversy around the world with a firestorm raging in the US.

Proponents for GMO’s tout the ability to make larger foods to feed more people and that GMO’s allow food to be grown in barren areas.

However, several red flags should be considered.

  • The introduction of toxic herbicides has increased 16 times since GMO’s were introduced
  • Herbicide resistant ‘super weeds’ and ‘superbugs’ have since emerged and can only be killed with more toxic ingredients.
  • Not only are the effects of GMO’s unknown but they are a direct extension of chemical agriculture and are created and sold by the world’s largest chemical companies. (4)


Most of the vegetable farmers you will see around the Cypress area may be non-certified but many grow using organic growing methods. The certification is costly, time intensive and bring government involvement as cause for concern for some. For a farmer struggling to make ends meet with a limited number of hours in the day this is simply not an option.

Depending upon the size of the farm, a farmer will pay $600 to $25,000 for the certification alone. This certification does not include the cost of the inspections, assessments, travel costs for the inspector and annual fees if they hope to keep their certification. (5)

I have received dozens of inquiries on GMO seeds during my years in doing the co-op and I press my farmers, always receiving the same answer, regardless of which farmer I have asked. ‘You have to sign a contract’ or ‘you have to sign it all away to get those seeds’ are the most common replies.

According to,

Farmers who buy GMO seeds must pay licensing fees and sign contracts that dictate how they can grow the crop – and even allow seed companies to inspect their farms. GMO seeds are expensive and farmers must buy them each year or else be liable for patent infringement. And while contamination can happen through no fault of their own, farmers have been sued for “seed piracy” when unauthorized GMO crops show up in their fields. (6)


Hopefully, this article has armed you with some basic information and inspired you to learn more. Each decision is very personal and unique but knowledge is power and it is up to YOU to research and determine what is best.

Fortunately, organic and NON-GMO Project certified foods are available in local grocery stores.

Several co-ops/ CSA’s and Farmers Markets are available in and around the Cypress area. Not only does shopping these venues allow you to support your local economy but it gives you the ability to shake hands with the people who grow your food.

At Cypress Family Farm to Kitchen, we have a saying of ‘Know your Farmer, Know your Food’ and we wouldn’t have it any other way.



About Author

Brandi McRill

Brandi McRill

Brandi McRill is a new contributing author to the DCG blog and the DCG family is thrilled to welcome her. Brandi and Jack McRill are co-owners of Cypress Family Farm to Kitchen. They are committed to building a bridge between local farmers and the Cypress community. The co-op offers residents an opportunity to purchase fresh produce from farms no more than 35 miles from their homes.