7 Surprising Facts About Your Organic Food

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Source: UC Davis; Certified Organic Farm 

Every time you step foot in a supermarket, you're bombarded with organic options. But there's a lot about organic food that most folks never hear. Here are seven fascinating facts about organic food.

1. It's a global game

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has certified around 25,000 farms and businesses worldwide. USDA certification isn't just important for American corporations - it's important for any company that wants to market its product as organic to an American audience. To date, farms and companies in over 100 countries have received the USDA's stamp of organic approval.

2. Certification is expensive

Unless you sell less than $5,000 worth of produce per year, you're required to hire a third-party certifier to call your product organic. The classification has received significant pushback from some small-scale farmers, who tout the title as unaffordable. While exact costs vary by farm type and size, the USDA has recognized that certification doesn't come cheap. It'll reimburse up to $750 per certification, and the new 2014 Farm Bill doubles certification cost-share funding to $57.5 million.

3. Unexpected inputs

Farmers are an innovative bunch, and over the years they've adapted their inputs to use what the rest of us might consider useless. While sewage sludge is on the input lists for some farmers, the USDA has nixed that from organic farmers' armory of ingredients. But black-and-white newspaper, soap, and liquid fish products (it's exactly what it sounds like) all got the go-ahead from the USDA .

4. Organic vodka?

Drinking organic may not be a top priority at two o'clock in the morning, but beer, wine, and liquor can be organic, too. There are two divisions for your drink: "organic" and "made with organic ___." To get the gold star, the actual alcohol company has to use almost exclusively organic ingredients. For "Made with organic ___," it's enough for your beverage to be at least 70% organic.

5. It begins before birth

Source: USDA.gov 

For all mammalian livestock (cows and pigs, mostly), it's not just those animals that eat organic - it's their mothers, as well. From the last third of the gestation period, mama must eat only organic for her baby to benefit from the same certification.

6. Terroir is terribly important

Like a fine French vineyard, soil is a vital component of the organic arrangement. For farmers to begin touting their goods as organic, they've got to start abiding by all land regulations three whole years in advance. That means no irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides or genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can touch that land during farmers' phase-in period.

Taking care of soil can have long-term benefits for farmers, too. Organic farming helps keep land biologically active, allowing for natural nitrogen and carbon cycling that keeps plants and our planet healthier.

7. Not just a niche market

It's easy to dismiss organic food as a lifestyle choice for the rich and famous, but this classification is making major moves across the agricultural sector. In 2013, the organic industry was valued at $35 billion. 92% of those sales came from food, while the extra 8% was made up of flowers, fiber, household products, and pet food. In total, organic food now accounts for around 4% of America's $760 billion in annual food sales.

The organic industry has experienced massive growth over the last decade, but it's not slowing down -- yet. From 2012 to 2013, the market grew 11.5% for its fastest rate in five years, according to a survey by the Organic Trade Association (OTA). "The U.S. organic market is experiencing strong expansion, with organic food and farming continuing to gain in popularity," said OTA CEO and Executive Director Laura Batcha in a statement . While overall food sales have experienced average annual growth rates of 3% since 2010, organic food has enjoyed an approximately 10% boost every year.

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