Ever wonder what makes your organic coffee, power muffin, or energy nugget organic? The term “organic” used to be loosely assigned by growers. But when the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) began to scrutinize “organic” growers it became apparent that some were using the label without the ecological methods to back them up. Thus, a movement to standardize the organic method of agriculture began. States began to adopt their own standards in the 1980s. It didn’t take long before states had differing qualifications for growers. Consumers and farmers protested, culminating in the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. OFPA was passed in order for “standards for substances to be used in organic production” to be determined. A 15-member National Organic Safety Board (NOSB) now advises the Secretary of the USDA on these standards. Any farmer can apply for certification through the USDA’s now-rigorous application, testing, and certification process. But farmers selling less than $5,000 of product a year do not need to be certified by USDA to label their product as organic. Producers also can write the word “organic” in the ingredients list without USDA approval. So how can you be sure that what you are buying is worth the premium you paid for the organic label? Look for the official, green and white USDA symbol. It has become a big selling point even among highly scrutinizing European Union citizens. The market for organic products has boomed so much that at present, there are 137 private growers, states, and international growers or agencies applying for the coveted “USDA Organic” seal of approval. So why should you buy organic? Organic farming means fewer chemicals (or none) entering your body and our ecosystem, crops that are more water efficient, and increased long-term health and nutrient retention of soils. Organic foods demand less from soil than genetically modified crops do. Even better, buy from your local farmers’ market (Riverwest’s is on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Garden Park at Bremen and Locust Streets). Many sellers at these markets use organic practices, and buying directly from the farmer means you’re giving all profits to the farmer rather than funding a middle man. As a bonus, you’re keeping that money in Wisconsin and reducing the amount of fuel needed to ship the produce.