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Farmers in Billings adapt to the new organic regulations



Billings, Montana — West of Billings, in Swanky Roots, farming takes on a slightly different appearance: After all, most produce farms don’t have 1,200-gallon carp tanks.

It’s a fresh take on one of Montana’s oldest industries at this farm.

“When we were starting and looking into organic certifications, it really came down to what is the meaning behind the label. The more we looked into it, it seemed like a lot of paperwork for something that didn’t necessarily mean best practices,” said Veronnaka Evenson, owner of Swanky Roots, on Tuesday.

Swanky Roots appears natural at first glance. Though it appears to be in character and feels the part, there is a slight technological flaw. Additionally, it might become more challenging to obtain organic certification in the future as federal standards continue to evolve.

The farm does not, by definition, grow organic food, but the owners are aware personally of how the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recent reforms would affect organic growers throughout Montana. Beginning in March, the organization will demand that labels include a list of all ingredients that are organically approved in addition to more stringent on-site inspections of certified facilities.

“It’s not an easy process. It takes time. Every time you change rules, it’s a whole other trying to relearn, or what do I have to do different?” said Evenson.

Because of the food they feed their fish, Evenson and her employees are unable to label their food as organic. Because the farm uses fish excrement to feed its plants and the fish meal isn’t organic, none of its products can be certified organic.

Evenson distributes her vegetables to shops all across Billings, but due to a technicality, she loses out on possible organic-only clientele.

“How do we define organic? Because we’re still using good practices in here. We’re still using beneficial microbes, which is what you want in healthy soil. We just have different surfaces for them to live on, which is water instead of the soil,” Evenson said.

However, despite stringent regulations, organic farming is expanding in the Treasure State.

A 2019 research found that Montana had 208 organic farms covering around 356,000 acres. A significant portion of the agricultural sector is paying close attention to these recent USDA developments.

“We have a good product that can make our system work. So, do we need to chase that label? But if I’m going to do that, then I’m going to have to increase my prices to make up the difference,” Evenson said.


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