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Market Farming Fact Sheets:

1. Transition to Organic Vegetable Production
2. Protecting Your Organic Land from Unwanted Chemical Sprays


Ask an Organic Specialist: Market Farming Answers

Must I use organic seed?

Answer by Organic Specialist Harriet Behar: If you are still in transition to organic, you are not required under the organic regulations to plant organic seed. However, you cannot plant seeds that have prohibited synthetic treatments applied, such as a fungicide or insecticide (ie: Captan, Maxim,Thiram). Nitrogen-fixing rhizobial bacteria, used as a treatment on leguminous seeds, is allowed. You must make sure this bacteria is not genetically modified, and the bacteria is not sold with a prohibited synthetic carrier or fertilizer.

You must keep documentation that the seed planted during your transition meets these requirements as part of your application for organic certification. If you plant a corn seed treated with captan after two years of transitioning to organic, for instance, you must restart the 36-month clock on your transition, to the day you planted that seed on that field. If you are unsure if a seed treatment is allowed, ask MOSES, or the organic certification agency you are planning to use when you become certified for organic production.

If your operation is certified organic, you are required under the organic regulations to plant organic seed, unless you cannot find an “equivalent organically produced variety” in the form, quality or quantity that you want. For example, you may want organically approved clay-coated carrot seed for ease of planting, and it is not available on organic seed; or, you want 1000 pounds of bodacious sweet corn seed and you cannot find organic seed in that quantity; or, the germination rate for the organic barley you found is only 65%; or, you cannot find the specific variety of seed in an organic form that the buyer of your crop wants you to grow. In all of these cases, you can use non-organic seed. It cannot have prohibited seed treatments, as described above.

Note that the rule requires you to seek out an “equivalent” variety. If you are new to organic and are unsure whether the organic seed varieties are equivalent to the familiar non-organic varieties you are used to growing, you should trial out organic varieties with similar characteristics at the same time as planting your untreated non-organic seed, to see if you can find one to your liking. Higher price is NOT an acceptable reason to avoid planting organic seed.

Organic seed is an investment in our future as organic producers. Since organic seed is produced under organic management, and the seed breeders are specifically working to provide characteristics that organic crop producers need, it makes sense to purchase from these companies and support their efforts. For example, organic corn producers cannot plant in cold ground in the early spring, since their seed is not treated with fungicides. Therefore, they want a seed that will germinate quickly as well as canopy thick and early to help with weed control in their organic fields. Organic seed breeders work to have crops that respond well to natural, slower release forms of fertility inputs, whereas nonorganic corn seed breeders don’t do this.

I have been having problems with aphids in my high tunnels. What can I do to control them?

Answer by Organic Specialist Joe Pedretti: Greenhouses and high tunnels are great tools, but they also provide a nice protected environment for certain insect pests. Normally, aphids are kept in check by predators, parasites and by wind and rain which can knock them off plants. In the protected environment of a greenhouse or high tunnel, they can become a problem because there are few or no natural controls. In the right conditions, aphids and other pests, such as whiteflies and spider mites, can explode in numbers very quickly.

Aphids are sucking insects that weaken plants by sucking up sugars and other fluids from crops. They are not easy to see, since they are the same color as the plant stem and generally like to feed on stems, buds, and underneath leaves.

Step one for control is to monitor your crops on a regular basis. Infested plants are often stunted and can be a lighter green or yellow. Look closely at the stems under the leaves for aphids. A magnifying glass or loop can help. A good approach that saves time is to flag “sentinel” plants. Mark plants in a grid pattern and only monitor those specific plants on at least a weekly basis. If you find significant numbers of aphids on these plants, you know it is time for control options. Yellow sticky cards are another good monitoring device. Adult female aphids have wings and are strongly attracted to the color yellow, which mimics the color of sickly plants. The cards are coated in sticky glue, which traps them. Check cards at least weekly for signs of adult aphids. Sticky cards need to be replaced frequently to work well. Fortunately they are cheap and available through any greenhouse supply company.

If you have any infested plants in a greenhouse or high tunnel, you should begin control options since their numbers can explode quickly.

Here are your options as an organic farmer:

Biological control

There are a number of predators and parasites available for purchase and release. Ladybug larvae are the most familiar, but there are parasitic wasps, lacewings and others available now as well. Biological controls work best to keep aphid levels down, but may not give good control if you already have a problem. They simply cannot reproduce as quickly as aphids (which can actually reproduce without males- females give birth to clone daughters). Beneficial insects work best as preventative controls. A number of companies sell beneficial insects, including:

Non-Chemical Spray

Soapy water will kill aphids. The soap strips away their waxy cuticle and they die of dehydration. In order for this to work, they must be directly sprayed with the soapy water. Use a sprayer and mix one tablespoon of liquid soap per gallon of water. (Dr. Bronner’s is pure soap. Be careful not to use soaps with perfumes, dyes or other synthetic additives.) There are also many ready-to-use brands that are OMRI listed including the common Safer Insecticidal Soap.

Allowed Chemical Sprays

Remember that all insecticides approved for organic use are “restricted use” products. You can use them only when your other control options have failed, and you must notify your certifier if you intend to use a new product and the reason you must use it. Pyrethrum/pyrethrin-based sprays will work on aphids, but have a very short residual effect and must come in contact with the aphids. The product Pyganic works well, since it is pyrethrin mixed with oil, which coats and kills aphids and many other insects. Your certifier should be able to provide a list of approved pyrethrum/pyrethrin sprays or check the OMRI website for a list:

Aphids also love plants that are over-fertilized with nitrogen. If they are a constant problem despite other control efforts, you might be adding too much nitrogen to your potting mix or through fertilizer applications. A tissue test to determine nitrogen levels may be in order if you are having ongoing issues with aphids and other sucking pests.

As always, crop rotation and good sanitation practices can help control aphids in the long run.

Can I plant non-organic strawberry plants, and then sell the strawberries as organic?

Answer by Organic Specialist Harriet Behar:

Yes, you can plant non-organic strawberry plants and sell the fruit as organic with no waiting period, provided you have documented a search and could not find commercially avail­able organic strawberry plants.

The requirement for planting stock is similar to that for commercially available organic seeds. You must use an organic version unless you cannot find it in the variety, quality or quantity that you need. You must document your search for organic strawberry plants or other types of planting stock. If you cannot find them in the type, quality or quantity you need, then you can plant non-organic plants and sell the fruit as organic.

In February 2013, the National Organic Pro­gram (NOP) updated guidance on whether or not “planting stock” such as strawberries, rasp­berries, tree fruits, and herb plants needed to be under organic management for one full year before selling the production from these plants as organic. Many certification agencies had required a year of organic management. With the update, the NOP clarifies that the one year of organic management is only required when a grower is selling the planting stock itself as organic.

You can sell strawberry fruit as organic at any time from a non-organic strawberry plant. However, the runners from that plant must be under full organic management for a year before you can sell them as “organic planting stock.” Also, you can sell rosemary or lavender leaves as organic from non-organic plants recently planted on your organic farm, but you must manage the plant organically for one full year before you can make cuttings and root them to sell as organic plants.

Can any farmer label products as organic?

Answer by Organic Specialist Harriet Behar: The use of the word “organic” on a label in the U.S. is regulated by law, which is managed by the National Organic Program (NOP) within the USDA. Farmers who are certified organic or those who sell less than $5,000 a year of organic products can use the word “organic” or phrases such as “grown using organic methods” to describe products. Even though farmers who sell less than $5,000 are exempt from NOP certification, they still must meet all other requirements of the law, such as use of organic seed when available, certified organic transplants, and documenting all farming activities.

At farmers’ markets, where these exempt-from-certification growers often sell products, labeling can become an issue. It is unfair to producers who go through the strict requirements to achieve organic certification to see the label misused. In many cases, misuse is a result of ignorance, not malice. But, it can cause bad feelings between growers at a market, and impact a market’s reputation if patrons see “organic” being used loosely.

To ensure that vendors at a farmers’ market are using “organic” correctly, managers can ask them to sign a statement that they have followed organic rules. This not only makes vendors aware of the standards they must meet, but also satisfies certified organic farmers that their market neighbors are meeting the same strict rules.

The statement below covers many of the requirements that a smaller scale grower or livestock producer must meet in order to sell organically labeled products as a noncertified (“exempt”) organic farmer. It provides information on what practices and inputs are allowed in order to use the organic label, and can be a valuable educational tool.

Farmers’ market managers should feel free to modify this statement and have it reviewed by their own legal counsel. This type of statement should be updated each year to keep current with changes to organic regulations.

NOTE: Anyone may file an anonymous complaint at to report someone who is making an organic claim who is not certified or exempt from certification requirements.

Statement for exempt-from-organic-certification producers to use the word “organic”

I am a producer that is not certified organic, but I use the word “organic” to describe my products or practices in the marketplace. The list below describes many of the requirements in the organic law that I follow in order to use the word “organic.” I have read and follow the full U.S. organic regulation, which is located at

I affirm that:
1.  I sell less than $5,000 annually in organically labeled products.
2.  I have not planted any seeds that had synthetic treatments, such as fungicides or insecticides.
3.  I have planted all organic seeds if they were available in the variety and quantity I required.
4.  I have either grown transplants myself using only OMRI* or organic certifier organically approved potting mixes and other inputs or I have purchased certified organic transplants.
5.  I have only applied fertility, pest, disease and weed management inputs that have either been approved by OMRI or by an organic certification agency. I understand that there are numerous agricultural input products that make organic claims that are untrue and I have gone the extra step to verify what I am using meets the organic law.
6.  I have implemented a soil building rotation on my farm, where annual crops of the same type are not grown in succession in the same field. I also use plant and livestock based materials such as cover crops and compost to continually improve my soils.
7.  I have not applied manure to my fields growing crops for human consumption any sooner than 90 days before harvest for crops that are not in contact with soil (i.e. sweet corn), or 120 days before harvest for crops that are in contact with soil (root crops, tomatoes, peppers etc.).
8.  I have documentation that compost containing livestock originated components used on my farm meets the requirement of having a Carbon to Nitrogen ratio of between 25 to 1 and 40 to 1, has had a temperature maintained of 131 to 170 degrees F for 15 days and has been turned 5 times, or if in a static vessel, had this temperature maintained for 3 days.
9.  All mammalian livestock has been managed organically from the last third of gestation of their mother to the day of slaughter. All poultry has been managed organically from the second day of life. Organic management includes 100% certified organic feed.
10.  All livestock has had access to the outdoors, with ruminants receiving 30% of their nutrition from pasture during a minimum 120 day grazing season. All animal health products and feed supplements have either been OMRI approved or approved by an organic certification agency.
11.  I have maintained documentation that verifies what I have stated above.

Farmer Name
Farm Name

*OMRI=Organic Materials Review Institute (


Resources & Research:

Market Farming Resources
  • Iowa State University and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture have created a Sustainable Vegetable Production website to share results from research on strategies that enhance vegetable production and cropping systems. Topics include transplant production, season extension, cover cropping, plasticulture, biochar, soil biology, nutrient management and food quality aspects. The website’s purpose is to help growers reduce input costs, improve crop and soil health, and create cropping system efficiencies.
  • Networking Small Urban Farmers Markets
    The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) has created a new guide based on its experience trying to get fresh produce into food deserts in Minneapolis by setting up mini farmers markets. This manual shows how IATP served as the ”umbrella organization” in a network of 15-21 urban neighborhood markets with five or fewer vendors.
  • Organic Seed Finder
    The centralized database offers a way for organic growers to find reliable sources for organic seed. Seed vendors pay a fee to post on the site, which provides free access to growers. The site was created to make it easier to find certified organic seeds and to expand overall organic production. Created by the Organic Seed Alliance and the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies.
  • 2014 Organic Seed Growers Conference Webinars
    The series features six sessions covering specific topics in the areas of organic plant breeding, organic seed production, and policy. The series also includes a welcome address from Organic Seed Alliance and a keynote address from Tom Stearns of High Mowing Organic Seeds.
  • Skip the Market: 6 Other Ways Your Farm Can Make Money
    Lisa Kivirist writes for Hobby Farm Magazine on how to diversify your income stream through outlets other than farmers’ markets. Her ideas expand over hosting off-site farm-to-table dinners, trading words for cash, selling directly to chefs, raising something niche, cultivating craft supplies, and supplying food artisans.
  • Soil Fertility Project – Ohio State University
    Research team looking for farmer feedback. The aim is to jump-start the process of updating soil fertility recommendations for commercial vegetable growers. Small to mid-scale field and high tunnel growers who manage operations that produce multiple crops may benefit most from this project. The goal is to provide the opportunity to contribute to this study to as many vegetable growers as possible. Participation is free, quick and confidential. Details are explained at the project website where growers, consultants and others are invited to participate.



  • Guide for Organic Processors 
    Created as part of the USDA’s Organic Literacy Initiative to connect organic farmers, ranchers, and processors with the USDA resources available to them. Include information about organic requirements and best practices, and explain the certification process.
  • New website bolsters local food systems
    The new Community and Local Food Resource website provides tools and resources to help farmers, extension educators, and communities build or strengthen their local food system. For farmers, the site offers resources on marketing to a local system, production ideas, and good agricultural practices. This USDA SARE project was led by a collaboration of the University of Minnesota Extension’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, Buy Fresh Buy Local South Dakota; FARRMS (North Dakota), North Dakota State University Extension; and the Northwest Regional Partnership (Minnesota).
  • The On-Farm Food Safety Project website offers resources to help fruit and vegetable farmers ensure their produce is safe to eat. The website includes a an online tool to create a customized on-farm food safety plans.
  • Online Organic Grower Guides
    Online organic resources for growing apples, beans, carrots, grapes, and more from Cornell University. (Although these guides were written primarily for New York growers, the recommendations are applicable to growers in other humid regions.)
  • Organic Food Processing Basics (PDF)
    MN Department of Agriculture Fact Sheet
  • Transplant Production Decision Tool
    A new online tool can help vegetable growers in the Upper Midwest select the best system for transplant production on their farm. Producing transplants allows farmers to mitigate risk and get a jumpstart on the growing season. Transplants are germinated and grown in a controlled environment and then replanted in the field. This new online tool provides information about options, challenges and costs for every step of this process, from choosing a growing tray to ‘hardening’ the plants for field conditions.
    The tool includes profiles of six vegetable farms in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, as well as photo galleries of infrastructure, equipment and crops. A one-page matrix summarizes the costs, skill level, benefits and drawbacks of various options for transplant equipment.
    The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture awarded a grant to the Iowa Organic Association to compile the online tool. Chris Blanchard, organic farmer and consultant (Flying Rutabaga Works), developed the Transplant Production Decision Tool.


From the Organic Broadcaster:

Autumn Britten starts producing around the middle of August in east-central Minnesota, and tends to be somewhat more productive than other cultivars, with slightly larger and more elongated berries and taller canes.Choose hardy cultivars for best bramble berries
March | April 2014

Bramble berries—raspberries and blackberries—can be great additions to the diversified market farm or orchard. Read more here.


Jamie and David Baker have an 83-acre farm between Madison and Chicago, where they grow produce for a 300-member CSA. The Bakers left corporate jobs in Chicago to pursue their farm dream.

Second-career farmers bring life experience to the field
March | April 2014

An exciting new sector of the expanding agrarian movement is ‘second career’ farmers. Read more here.


IMG_0695Smart tools, systems help you save labor in the transplant house
March | April 2014

Work in the transplant house starts at a slow time of year for most vegetable growers, but continues as field operations and even harvest get under way. Read more here.


Berries-e1381261210198Strawberry season extended using low-tunnel production
March | April 2014

Availability of locally grown strawberries is extremely limited in the Upper Midwest, primarily due to the short growing season. Read more here.


DSC_0329Friends or foes: Farmers talk about their relationships with weeds
January | February 2014

Whether or not we like it, we all have relationships with those plants we call “weeds.” Read more here.


Sometimes you need to create your own tools to fit your transplant system. Gardens of Eagan staff made this plug popper to extract soil plugs quickly. Photo by Angie Sullivan.

Transplants offer jumpstart; transplant systems vary
January | February 2014

The long and miserable spring of 2013 highlighted the value of transplants for vegetable production in the Upper Midwest. Read more here.


Transplants at Gardens of EaganWhat’s new? Options for organic seed continue to grow
January | February 2014

As the soil rests under a cover of snow, farmers’ minds drift to planning for next season’s production. Read more here.


Chris's Field Day 044Food Safety in the Packing House
November/December 2013

As produce farmers, we can’t eliminate the risk of microbial contamination in our food production. Read more here.


How to Navigate Cottage Food Laws
November/December 2013

If you regularly have an abundance of tomatoes you’d love to turn into salsa to sell at your local farmers’ market…. Read more here.


Chris's Field Day 043Keeping it Clean: Understanding Food Safety on the Farm
July/August 2013

When I got started in organic farming over twenty years ago I worked on three vegetable farms before anyone even said the words, “food safety.” Read more here.


Increase Tomato Plant Vigor and Yield through Grafting
March/April 2013

Envision a 30 to 50 percent increase in the yield of ripe fruit harvested from tomato plants healthy in the hoophouse from March through October. Read more here.


SI ExifSign Here: Written Agreements Keep Buyers, Suppliers, and CSA Members Happy
January/February 2013

For many farmers, winter certainly does bring the white stuff. But it isn’t snow. Read more here.


211wholesalesuccessBook Review: Wholesale Success – A Farmer’s Guide to Food Safety, Selling, Handling, and Packing Produce
January/February 2013

When I opened a pre-print copy of Wholesale Success I was thrilled to find…. Read more here.

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