An interest of organic agriculture and certification in South and North Carolina is what drove the formation of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association in the late 1970s.

Since then, organic farmers have been at the heart of our organization. We’ve developed resources as well as providing direct technical assistance to support organic and transiting-to-organic growers for decades, and we’re passionate about continuing that support.

If you’re a farmer looking to grow crops and livestock in accordance with the USDA’s organic standards, read on to learn how CFSA can support you to transition your farm and obtain, and keep, USDA Organic Certification.


USDA Organic seal

What does it mean to be certified organic?

Organic certification is a process through which agricultural products are verified to meet specific standards set by regulatory bodies. These standards focus on environmentally-friendly practices, promoting sustainable agriculture, and avoiding using synthetic chemicals or genetically modified organisms.

Farms and producers seeking organic certification undergo inspections and audits to ensure they adhere to these criteria.

Once approved, they can label their products as “organic,” providing consumers with confidence that they were produced with a commitment to ecological and ethical practices.

Becoming certified organic can offer several benefits to farmers, making it an appealing choice for many.

Why farmers might consider organic certification

  1. Market Demand: Consumer awareness and demand for organic products have steadily increased. By obtaining organic certification, farmers access a growing market of environmentally-conscious and health-conscious consumers, potentially leading to higher demand and better product prices.
  2. Environmental Stewardship: Organic farming practices prioritize sustainability, soil health, and biodiversity. By following these principles, farmers contribute to preserving the environment, reducing chemical usage, and promoting the long-term health of their land.
  3. Health Benefits: Organic farming avoids using synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and genetically modified organisms. By producing food without these chemicals, farmers can provide consumers with healthier and safer products.
  4. Access to Support: Organic certification may open doors to government programs, grants, and subsidies designed to support sustainable agriculture. These resources can aid farmers in implementing organic practices and improving their operations.
  5. Enhanced Reputation: Certified organic enhance a farmer’s reputation as a responsible and ethical producer. This can lead to stronger relationships with consumers, retailers, and other stakeholders in the agricultural industry.
  6. Compliance with Standards: Organic certification ensures that a farmer meets strict standards and regulations set by accredited certifying bodies. This process helps farmers maintain transparency and credibility in the marketplace.
  7. Soil Health: Organic farming involves crop rotation, cover cropping, and other soil health practices, leading to improved soil fertility, reduced risk of pests and diseases, and overall building more resilient soils.

Overall, organic certification provides farmers with a range of benefits, including access to a growing market, environmental stewardship, improved product quality, and potential financial advantages.

However, it is essential to consider the additional costs and commitment required for certification, as the process involves adhering to rigorous standards and ongoing inspections.

If you think organic certification is right for you, we’re here to help!


How can CFSA help?

CFSA offers direct technical assistance and resources to help farmers transition to certified organic. If you think organic certification is right for you, we’re here to make the process as smooth and easy as possible.

Our services include:

  • Basic information on different certifying agents that work in North Carolina or South Carolina.
  • Q&A on the USDA’s National Organic Program regulations relevant to your operation.
  • Guidance on appropriate recordkeeping systems and farm maps.
  • A careful review of your records and certification application materials.

How to apply for organic certification assistance

What you can expect with the certification process

In simplest terms, the certification process involves an application, review, inspection, compliance with any standards issues, and certification.

  • You will pick a certifier and submit your application through your chosen certifying agent.
  • In your application, called an Organic System Plan (OSP), you explain what you do, how, and what you use to do it.
  • During the initial review, your OSP is assessed to determine if the certifier has all the information needed to begin the certification process and ensure they understand your operation on paper. Once the review is complete, an onsite inspection is scheduled. ATTRA has a great resource on preparing for an inspection.
  • During inspection, the inspector will confirm that what you said on paper is what you are doing in practice and determine whether your recordkeeping provides the necessary audit trail to track your product flow and document your growing and/or handling practices. The inspector will explain to you what they observed and write a report.
  • The inspector’s report will be reviewed to address any compliance issues that arose during the inspection. Once all issues are resolved, you will receive a letter from your certifying agent informing you of your certification status and any requirements for ongoing certification.