The Bowdoin Organic Garden has never actually been organic.
At least not in the eyes of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). Though the garden has never been certified, the practices of the gardeners at Bowdoin have always been organic. No chemically synthesized pesticides or herbicides are used in the garden, and no genetically modified crops are planted.
In the next few months, the garden's overseers hope that the plots will be officially certified by MOFGA.
The organic garden is made up of two plots: one located on Crystal Spring Community Farm, about two miles from campus, and the other on the corner of Coffin Street and South Street, behind East Hall. Crops in the garden vary from blueberries to vegetables to herbs.
Bowdoin has had control over both plots for the past three years, ensuring that the garden meets MOFGA's requirement that the land must be free of prohibited substances for at least 36 months. Compounds prohibited by the National Organic Program include ash from manure burning, arsenic, lead salts, and tobacco dust.
"Most synthetic materials, fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides are prohibited," said Mary Yurlina, director of MOFGA certification services.
To determine if their land is eligible, farmers need to create an organic farm plan, which describes in-depth how they manage their land and crops, and then submit it to a local certifying body (in this case, MOFGA).
According to Yurlina, MOFGA is interested in all aspects of land management, including how farmers manage soil fertility, crop-rotation plans, and their use of green manures and compost. Also, MOFGA requires that the seeds used for a farm's crops be certified as organic, even though that can sometimes be more expensive.
"You need to use organic seeds if they are available, regardless of price," said Yurlina.
Managing pests in an ecologically conscious way is also important to MOFGA.
Yurlina said that there are approved substances that can be used to combat pests, but that MOFGA also promotes the use of cultural techniques, such as the use of trap crops and crop rotations, to alleviate disease and insect problems.
While maintaining an organic garden is a large task on its own, diligent record-keeping is also necessary for and during certification. Farmers have to keep all receipts, as well as a field log book recording activity on the farm. These records are especially important during the growing season when an inspector is dispatched, to ensure that what is written in the farm plan is actually being practiced on the farm.
The cost for Bowdoin's certification, determined by the size of the garden, is $175. However, Bowdoin will still get most of that money back.
"The state receives funds for reimbursement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of the National Organic Program, which are available on a first-come, first-serve basis through September 2008 for up to 75 percent of what you owe," said Sustainable Bowdoin Intern and Facilitator of the Garden Katherine Creswell.
Once the garden is certified as organic, Bowdoin will be able to use the "MOFGA Certified Organic" logo on its produce, which represents a high quality of food that is grown in a sustainable way and is good for the environment. The logo also increases the potential market value of the food, though Bowdoin does not sell any of its produce.
Instead, the produce is consumed in Bowdoin's own dining halls, and according to Ken Cardone, assistant director of the dining service and executive chef, the quality of fresh, organic food can't be beat.
"The average produce we buy travels about 1,500 miles," he said. "In this case, it's half a mile. Whatever you see out there growing, that's what you're going to be eating."
According to Creswell, two of the most important factors when buying food are whether it's local and whether it's organic. Now, thanks to certification, no tough decisions need to be made.
"The garden has always produced local food by default. Organic certification only adds merit to the good practices already taking place," she said.
The application for organic certification will be submitted in January or February, and Creswell hopes that the plots will be certified by the time the growing season is underway.