Why Locally Grown Can Be Better Than The USDA Organic Designation

We are often asked if Sealantro Catering uses only organic produce in our meals, to which we respond that we use organic or local produce than has been grown to a higher standard than the USDA Organic designation. That’s the short answer! It’s an important topic and merits far more explanation, so here goes.

The USDA “certified organic” classification is an expensive and unsurprisingly bureaucratic process. Typically, there is an application fee, annual renewal fee, assessment on annual production or sales, and inspection fees.

Costs are high enough for small volume farmers. Irrigation, fertilizer and seeds are way more expensive than conventional.  (An ounce of organic, non-GMO cauliflower seeds can cost as much as $275).  Hence, many local farmers prefer to farm to their own standards that are higher than the USDA requirements, forgoing the government labeling.  This is truly a labor of love.  The work is manual and irrigation brings its own set of challenges but these farmers remain committed and maintain control of how their produce is grown.

Jan Pence, director of Florida Fields to Forks in Malabar, one of Sealantro’s purveyors, says “We go beyond what the government regulations require to certify a farm as organic.  Being certified organic is no guarantee that your food is pure and that you are not getting GMO foods, and that toxic pesticides and fertilizers are not being used.”

Florida Veggies and More is another of Sealantro’s preferred suppliers. The manager, Heather, agrees that there is a ridiculous amount of paperwork that accompanies the expense of USDA Organic certification. She adds, “Your hand selected local farmers have higher than organic standards. They are farmers, not accountants.

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Happy Cows

When it comes to meat, we buy Florida raised. Steve Nettere of Okeechobee Farms is another character in the band of passionate, committed locals with whom Sealantro works. Okeechobee Farm’s Angus beef cattle feed on 100 percent living Florida grasses and legumes. Nettere claims that makes his operation the only authentic 100% grass-fed beef provider in the country since “virtually every other grass fed beef producer in the USA uses hay and silage.”  Most facilities cannot guarantee grass-fed year round. Because of the effects of winter on crops, grasses have to be dried. Nettere explains that Florida is different because the state is not impeded by inclement weather; hence the superior quality of local meat in the Sunshine State.

Pence’s meats (lamb, chicken, beef and pork) are all USDA inspected, approved for humane farming methods and certified by the American Grass Fed Association.

As strict as our local purveyors are about not feeding their cattle and poultry antibiotics and hormones, they are equally disciplined about the quality of grass on which their animals are pastured.  This means no fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides; sensible pasture rotation, pure rain water and diluted seawater for minerals. Stock roam free and are killed humanely in a less stressful environment.

Many factory farmed cattle and poultry are trucked for days before being slaughtered, creating angst and stress for the animals. These emotions are present at a cellular level, just like they are for humans. Think about how your muscles tense when you’re afraid or stressed out because your sympathetic nervous system is telling you to be on guard.  This affects the quality of the meat; pardon the comparison but this is just as if you were being eaten by a lion at your time of stress.

At Sealantro, we say “you are what you eat eats” so choosing animals that have had the best diet possible and that have been kept in the most humane conditions is the healthiest way to go.

baby-broccoliAnother huge consideration for Sealantro is that many organic fruits and vegetables are flown or trucked in from other states or countries.  If you have environmental concerns, supporting local farmers and offsetting the impact of transportation will ease your conscience.  Fewer carbon dioxide emissions in transportation mean lower rates of asthma and other respiratory conditions, as well as decreased school absence days for children.

Per food-hub.org, the average American meal contains ingredients from at least five countries outside the US. This makes sense if you’re eating pasta from Italy or kimchi from Korea but if you’re eating oranges from California when you live in Florida, it’s a little nuts.

By using local purveyors, we at Sealantro serve fresh, seasonal produce to impact the local economy and to support our agricultural communities.  We know the people that grow our food and we are honored to share the fruits of their labor with you.  In fact, we will be listing the purveyors of all the ingredients on our menus so you can get to know these wonderful folks too.

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