electronic Gourmet Guide

What's This Organic Farming Stuff?


Organic farming harkens back to farming a century ago. It is usually small (relative to commercial farms), family owned and consumer driven. Just as your grandfather tended his own private vegetable garden, that's what today's organic farmers are doing, but with the aid of modern technology.

First, let's look at some terms.


"Organic" in a strict chemical definition means that something contains a carbon atom in its make-up. As for farming and produce, the term really does not delineate anything. Some of the modern, synthetic pesticides contain carbon and are therefore organic. "Certified Organic," however, does have some important connotations. In order for a farm (and its produce) to be certified organic, the farmer must follow strict guidelines and meet certain standards. Pesticide-free is a further step of the certified organic farmer, imposing stricter conditions on the land.

When a farm wants to be certified as organic, it must meet certain criteria by which it is worked. The strictest standards in the country are in California, where the idea of organic farming got off the ground. Many farms outside of California follow its guidelines, and are tested by independent third party groups to ensure certification to the strictest standards. A certified farm must have a record of the past five years of organic farming practices. The farm must send soil samples quarterly to be tested for non-certified chemicals. They must work with surrounding non-organic farms so that the chemicals these farms spray do not drift into the organic fields. Much of the pest control must be done by natural techniques, e.g. release of ladybugs to control harmful insect populations and provision of habitats for owls and hawks to control rodents. Weed control usually comes from the most old fashioned of methods, hand-weeding.

Organic Farming

About the Author

Joe LaVilla originally hails from Rochester, in western New York State. Deciding to forgo his love of food, Joe pursued a degree in chemistry from Cornell University. After obtaining his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the Univ. Of Rochester, he gave in to the inevitable and returned to his culinary calling. A graduate with honors of the Culinary Institute of America, Joe has worked in Manhattan, Washington, D.C. And at Spago in Las Vegas before settling in Phoenix, where he is currently working in off-premise catering. His excellent article "The Nuances of Cooking with Wine: Answers to Common Questions" appeared in the November 1997 issue of The electronic Gourmet Guide.

This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.

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This page modified February 2007