During the course of 2021 we obtained Organic Certification for our maple syrup and many of our maple products. The certification was complete by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, NOFA-VT, which is accredited by the USDA since 2002. The certification included an inspection of all of our equipment, procedures, sugarwoods, and records to ensure they comply with the rigorous organic food requirements. Although we were already following most of the organic practices, we did pick up some good pointers going through the certification process.
Isn't all Maple Syrup Organic?
We usually think of "organic food" as being produced without harmful pesticides and fertilizers, and GMO free. Well virtually all maple syrup produced anywhere comes from natural, raw forests that don't require pesticides or fertilizers. So what makes maple syrup organic? To us, the main differentiator is producing syrup in a sustainable way. Forests serve many ecological functions including carbon sequestration, water quality, and wildlife and plant habitat. The organic certification ensures that our maple syrup production does not compromise any of these functions. Some of the large sugar maple trees in our forest are over 100 years old and we want to ensure they'll be around for another 100. Examples of best practices in the forest include logging in a sustainable fashion, eliminating any trail runoff and erosion, and only tapping healthy, vigorous trees.
Organic vs Conventional Pure Maple Syrup
We had a lot of discussion within our team if we should complete the organic certification. There is some cost associated with the process (inspectors for example) and as we said above we were already following almost all of the organic requirements anyway. So why certify? In the end for us it came down to supporting and being part of a broader community of environmentally sound food producers. One of our core principles is "supporting the local community we live and work in". In this case "community" extends beyond our local geographic boundaries. In the same way, we hope a potential customer of ours living in Oregon still views our syrup produced by a small Vermont farm as "locally produced".
The process of converting our sales to organic certified maple syrup will start in early 2021. We need to change our jug labels for example. We may have a portion of our syrup each year that we do not certify as organic that we offer in bulk to bakeries, meat processors, etc.
For more information on what makes maple syrup organic, check out this video by NOFA-VT.