If farmers want to go organic, they face a major challenge: It takes three years of meeting strict standards before crops can be certified organic. In the meantime, farmers have to deal with steep learning curves and costs without earning any more for the food they're growing.
It's one of the reasons that despite huge demand for organic food, organic farming is still a tiny fraction of agriculture overall—and food brands that use organic ingredients struggle to find a supply.
A new "transitional organic" certification is designed to help. When consumers see the label at the grocery store, it's a way to support farmers in the process of becoming fully organic.
Kashi, a brand known for its organic cereals and snacks, helped push for the certification. "We really wanted to raise awareness about the barriers that farmers are facing when they're converting to organic, and just give consumers and the industry a tangible way to support that transition," says Nicole Nestojko, senior director of supply chain and sustainability at Kashi.
The inspiration came from a visit to an organic farm two years ago, when the company was talking to the farmer about the challenges of organic farming.
"The farmer said, 'As a consumer, I would really like a way to support farmers in transition—I would be more likely to support a farmer in transition than a farmer who is already organic,'" says Nestojko. "This is coming from an organic farmer. That was when the lightbulb went off."
Kashi partnered with Quality Assurance International, the leading organic food certifier, to create a new protocol for certifying farms in transition. The certification, and the label that shows up at grocery stores, is open to any brand because it likely will take the entire industry's participation to make a difference.
A new cereal, Kashi's Dark Cocoa Karma Shredded Wheat Biscuits, is the first to feature an ingredient (wheat) with the certification. Farmers with the transitional label will be paid a little more for their crops. It's also a way to educate consumers about the fact that the three-year transition exists.
"We know this is a critical problem," she says. "We wanted to address that with a consumer-facing, market-driven solution."