Organic principles are integral to our farming approach, and we feel that our US Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic certification is an important means of making our growing practices transparent to our customers. Our farm is inspected and our farm records reviewed annually by a USDA-accredited certifying body to ensure that we adhere to legal standards for farming practices that foster health of humans, animals, and the environment. In this respect, the label certified organic differs from other food labels such as all-natural, raised without antibiotics, free-range, hormone-free, which are not certified or verified by a third-party regulatory agency.

While we are proud to be a certified organic farm, we disagree with some of the allowances the USDA has granted under the certified organic label. The USDA certification, as of 2017, of fruits and vegetables grown hydroponically is one such allowance. Hydroponics entails growing plants without soil. Hydroponically grown plants are supplied nutrients via water-based aqueous solutions. Roots of hydroponically grown plants are in water or are supported mechanically by inert materials such as perlite or gravel. Of the 187 countries that offer organic certification, only one---the United States---permits fruits and vegetables grown hydroponically to be certified organic.

"The health of soil, plant, animal, and man is one and indivisible," wrote Sir Albert Howard, a pioneer of organic agriculture. With water, air, and sunlight, soil is the basis of life. Stewarding the soil is a foundation of organic farming. The decades-old USDA definition of organic as a system that "promotes and enhances ... soil biological activity" reflects this truth as does the US Code of Federal Regulations for certified organic agriculture, which specifies that farmers must "select and implement ... practices that maintain or improve the physical, chemical, and biological condition of soil and minimize soil erosion." In certifying hydroponically grown food as organic, the USDA is failing to enforce its own regulation.

A handful of soil can contain trillions of microbes, miles of fungal hyphae, and thousands of tiny animal species. The myriad relationships of these living things with one another and with plant roots determine the properties of the food we eat. While we humans are beginning to understand some of these relationships, we arguably will never understand all of them---and an artificial system such as hydroponics cannot replicate the complexity of soil life that gives rise to the food we humans have evolved to eat.

"...[W]e can live only in and from nature," writes the Kentucky farmer Wendell Berry, "and...we have, therefore, an inescapable obligation to be nature's students and stewards and to live in harmony with her." For us at RambleRill, living in harmony with nature entails maintaining and improving precious soil, which provides habitat for human and non-human beings; regulates air quality, composition, and temperature; mediates carbon and nutrient cycling; and determines water quality. Hydroponics has no place in the organic ethos, and we believe it has no place in certified organic farming, either.

Many certified organic farmers and eaters of organic food share our view of hydroponics. Some, including us, have organized as a movement known as the Real Organic Project, which is working to uphold the integrity of the organic label.

The Real Organic Project has developed an add-on certification to help bring transparency to "organic." To be Real Organic Project certified, a farm first needs to be USDA certified organic. Through this requirement, the Real Organic Project helps bring integrity back to a label that is familiar to eaters. In addition, to be Real Organic Project certified, a farm must uphold additional standards that are not enforced by the USDA.

For example, Real Organic Project-certified farms must grow their crops in the soil with connection to subsoil. Hydroponics are prohibited. The Real Organic Project standards also include enhanced provisions that support the health and well-being of livestock. RambleRill Farm is both USDA certified organic and Real Organic Project certified. Learn more about the Real Organic Project here: Real Organic Project.