A New Certification Program Supports Organic Farmers in Training

Walk down the natural-foods aisle at your favorite supermarket, and you’ll see labels touting all sorts of promises: Fair Trade, sustainably grown, natural, free range, heart healthy, non-GMO, vegan, gluten-free, no artificial anything, Certified Organic, and Certified Transitional.

Certified what?

Certified Transitional is a new accreditation protocol dreamed up by Kashi to help farmers transition to organic farming methods. To understand how Certified Transitional works, you first need to understand what organic means.

Unlike such vague promises as natural, the term Certified Organic means something specific. As defined by the USDA National Organic Program (NOP), organic products must be grown, handled, and processed without the use of pesticides or other synthetic chemicals, irradiation, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients, or bioengineering. They must also be certified by a USDA-accredited certifying agency like Quality Assurance International (QAI).

(Products can be labeled “100% Organic” if they contain only organic ingredients and processing aids, “Organic” if they contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients, and “Made with Organic Ingredients” if they contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. Products that don’t meet the 70-percent minimum can still list specific organic ingredients on their information panels.)

Organic foods are good for the body and good for the farmer. A 2015 Washington State University study found that organic crops earn a 29–32 percent premium over conventional crops, a premium that has held steady for four decades. There’s just one problem: a farmer can’t shift to organic farming overnight. Farmland isn’t eligible for organic certification for three years after pesticides or other prohibited substances were applied, three years during which the land may lie fallow, generating zero income for the farmer.

Which brings us to the Certified Transitional program. Kashi began crafting the program in 2015 after one of their organic suppliers said she would be more likely buy from a farm in transition than one that had already earned certification. As a farmer herself, she recognized the need to help other farmers transition to organic practices.

Kashi bet that consumers would feel the same way, and so Certified Transitional—was born. CEO Dave Denholm introduce the program which is managed by QAI—at Sustainable Brands 2016 San Diego. (You can catch the video at http://www.sustainablebrands.com/digital_learning/event_video/supply_chain/breakthrough_creation_shared_value_scaling_access_organic_.)

Farmers that enroll in the Certified Transitional program go through a three-year process:

  • In year 1, they discontinue use of prohibited synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and sewage sludge and begin rebuilding healthy soil biology.
  • In year 2, they implement best practices that maintain or improve the natural resources of the farm operation, including soil and water quality.
  • In year 3, they finish the transition and prepare for organic certification.

Beginning in year 2, farmers can sell their crops as Certified Transitional, giving them an income stream to support their operations. Products can be labeled “Certified Transitional” if 70 percent or more of the ingredients (100 percent for single-ingredient products) have been certified.

The first such product was Kashi’s Dark Cocoa Karma Wheat Biscuit Cereal, which includes transitional red winter wheat as well as a handful of other, mostly organic, ingredients. It’s a product that promises “crunchy shredded wheat biscuits, warm cocoa, and a hint of cinnamon”—plus the chance to help farmers grow better, healthier food in the future.