Editors Note: Jim and Patricia are the owners of a home based organically grown herbal business in Washington state. They are wonderful folks who have a passion for living the pioneer lifestyle and creating products for long term health remedies. Please support them and their journey and let them know when you order that you learned about them at American Redoubt. They will be posting on the blog as contributors every few weeks so look for their postings!

Located in the foothills of Mt. Rainier in the little town of Elbe, Washington, Mountain Maus Remedies was born out of thankfulness and awe for the many plants and all their healing properties that were so amazingly created, and lovingly given to us from God Himself (Genesis 1:29).  Here at Mountain Maus’ Remedies, our prized loose leaf teas, bulk herbs  the essential oils and hydrosols, our herbal tinctures, and the various natural body care products that we provide are of the highest quality and finest ingredients.

One of the biggest questions asked here at Mountain Maus’ Remedies is what is the difference between organically grown herbs and certified organic herbs?

When we began our farm we wanted to be able to use the word “organic” to describe our naturally grown herbs, because, well , that is what they are, right?  However, as of the 2002 National Organic Program (NOP) Final Ruling, this word is USDA regulated so that only certified producers and processors can use it in their marketing.  Yes, that is correct, the government basically owns the word “organic” for food products.  This pretty much means you have to be in compliance with the organic standards set forth by the US government and use their regulated list of pesticide and chemical fertilizer companies. Certification is very expensive and Mountain Maus’ Remedies doesn’t want to pass on the costs to their customers, so we have opted out of being ‘certified organic’.

What we have learned is that certified organic produce means that a farm has applied, paid for, and received a special certification from the US government, indicating that the herbs and other produce they cultivate have been grown without the use of pesticides, synthetics and chemical fertilizers and do not contain genetically modified organisms (GMO) that are not on the US governments approved list.

Organic food production is a heavily regulated industry, but is very distinct from private gardening. In order for a farmer to label their food as “organic”, they must meet all of the regulations and standards set by the US government. What these “Certified Organic Farmers” fail to tell you is that they do use pesticides, and chemical fertilizers that are regulated and approved by the government. We found this out when we were going to apply for certification. We were shocked to find that “Certified Organic” isn’t really what it is all cracked up to be. The US government actually provides a list of “approved” pesticides and chemical fertilizers farmers can use on their crops so reality is, is that just because it has the words “Certified Organic” really doesn’t mean that it was organically grown and you and your family is still getting all the extra chemicals and stuff that ‘regular’ produce has, except that it is approved by the US government!

Organically grown means that farmers (in our case our farm and gardens) make a commitment to grow and harvest herbs using organic methods, such as using compost that does not contain chemicals or synthetic fertilizers, using seeds and seedlings that have not been genetically modified (GMO) and by using companion planting techniques instead of pesticides. Although we will not have the government certification to label some of our herbs “certified organic”, our customers can be assured that Mountain Maus’ Remedies is committed to using organic methods of growing and harvesting our herbs.

So what is the difference between organically grown herbs and certified organic herbs and what is the benefit of organically grown herbs?

Most certified organic produce and herbs have been grown using synthetic inputs such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers approved by the US government. Genetically modified (GMO) seeds and seedlings have been produced to withstand certain diseases easier than non-genetically modified seeds. The farmer attempts to control the environment of the plant, so that it is not stressed very easily and can concentrate on growing nice and big, with no diseases to threaten it. The pesticides help to control the environment, so that the plant has a nice and relaxing journey towards full growth. That doesn’t sound too bad does it?

Now when a seed is not genetically modified (like the seeds on our farm), it must work twice as hard to resist sickness and disease and survive in harsher conditions, therefore, it contains more nutrients and is much healthier for those who consume the finished plant.  Have you ever tasted the biggest strawberries at the grocery store, only to discover that they didn’t taste like much? Since the certified organic herbs didn’t have to work very hard to grow, they lack the nutrients that make them taste as good as they should!

Mountain Maus’ organic farming and gardening has many more benefits and is less damaging to the environment in the following ways:

-Maus’ organic farm does not use pesticides -some of which have the potential to harm soil, water and local wildlife. Maus’ farm uses companion planting techniques that help with controlling plant pests.

-Maus’ organic growing is better than conventional growing at sustaining diverse ecosystems (populations of plants and insects, as well as animals).

-Maus’ organic farming uses less energy and produces less waste. (most waste and unused plant product is being re composted for future crops)

-Maus’ organically grown herbs tend to have more nutrients than certified organic grown herbs, and more likely than not, taste a bit better too!

Health and environment watchdog, Environmental Working Group, has released the eighth edition of its Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce with updated data on 45 commonly-consumed fruits and vegetables and their total pesticide loads. The results are based on analysis of pesticide residue testing data from the US Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration.

Every year EWG takes to task the worst offenders with its Dirty Dozen list, while giving a shout-out to produce with the lowest pesticide levels with the list of the less contaminated.

Dirty Dozen: The 12 listed organic foods (in order of pesticide load, apples being the worst offenders).

1.   Apples

2.   Celery

3.   Sweet bell peppers

4.   Peaches

5.   Strawberries

6.   Imported nectarines

7.   Grapes

8.   Spinach

9.   Lettuce

10. Cucumbers

11. Domestic blueberries

12. Potatoes

15 less contaminated and don’t pose as much of a health threat as do the dozen above.

1.   Onions
2.   Sweet corn
3.   Pineapples
4.   Avocado
5.   Cabbage
6.   Sweet peas
7.   Asparagus
8.   Mangoes
9.   Eggplant
10. Kiwi
11. Domestic cantaloupe
12. Sweet potatoes
13. Grapefruit
14. Watermelon
15. Mushrooms

Other disheartening data from the report includes:

  • Some 98 percent of conventional apples have detectable levels of pesticides.
  • Domestic blueberries tested positive for 42 different pesticide residues.
  • Seventy-eight different pesticides were found on lettuce samples.
  • Every single nectarine tested had measurable pesticide residues.
  • As a category, grapes have more types of pesticides than any other fruit, with 64 different chemicals.
  • Thirteen different pesticides were measured on a single sample each of celery and strawberries.

Do you have any stories to share with us, or any questions regarding the organic, local, or conventional growing debate? Share your comments with us!