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Can I sell organic fruits and vegetables from plants I buy at my local garden center?


You probably will not be able to buy plants at your local garden store. When using annual transplants (tomatoes, peppers, onion plants etc.), the plants must be certified organic in order to sell organic produce from them in any given crop year.

The land you raise them on must be free of prohibited materials for 36 months prior to your first organic harvest. If you have planted nonorganic annual transplants in the same fields in the past, your certification agency may consider the land to be nonorganic, and require you to wait three years after that planting to have your first organic harvest. This decision may depend on whether the plants were bare root or were transplanted with their nonorganic potting mix. There is some difference between certifiers.Some allow one year to pass and others require three years. The interpretation of this regulation is something you want to discuss with your certification agency if you are requesting organic certification for the first time.

Your transplants cannot be purchased from an “exempt from certification” (under the $5,000 limit) operation. They must be certified organic, grown by you or someone else who has a valid organic certificate. Some natural food stores may be able to provide you with an organic certificate for the plants they sell, but most garden centers do not sell certified organic transplants.

You can grow the transplants yourself, using approved planting media which does not contain any synthetic fertilizers, fungicides, wetting agents or other prohibited materials. These items are not mandated to be listed on the label of commercially available potting media, so you must get information in writing from the manufacturer detailing the ingredients, stating that the media has not been treated with prohibited fungicides, insecticides, etc. There are many organically approved potting mix and input suppliers. For resources, see the Marbleseed Resource Directory or the OMRI Products List .

Be very careful when purchasing any fertility input or potting mix, since the word “organic” on these items does not always mean the same thing as “approved for organic production.” Long before the USDA organic regulation, the word “organic” on a label meant it contained the element carbon. To find products you can use, you must look for the OMRI seal and the words “approved for organic production.” Always verify with your organic certification agency that whatever you want to use is acceptable before you buy it.

For fruit trees, raspberry bushes, or other perennials, you are mandated to search for organic planting stock. However, if you cannot find the variety, quality or quantity you want as organic, you can use non-organic planting stock. You must document this search.

In a recent National Organic Program guidance it was clarified that an organic harvest from non-organic planting stock can be done immediately after beginning organic management and planting into organic soil. However, you cannot create and sell organic planting stock from parent nonorganic stock until it has been managed organically for 12 months. For example, you can plant non-organic strawberry plants and harvest an organic crop that same year after planting (after failing to find commercially available organic plants) whether you manage the strawberries as an annual or a perennial. If you buy a non-organic tarragon plant, you can sell the tarragon as organic immediately after planting in organic soil, but could not make cuttings and sell those as organic tarragon plants for 12 months.

Items such as potatoes, garlic, and sweet potatoes (in other words, roots, tubers, rhizomes, shoots, leaf or stem cuttings) are subject to the organic search, and can be planted as non-organic if none were found. However, each year there is more and more availability of these items as organic, and your search must truly cover not just your local store, but also the many mail order and internet operations that sell these items.

Posted: Jan 2015
Answer By: Harriet Behar