A Different Chick Farm and Orchard is a small, family-run farm in the heart of Johnson City, Tennessee. The farm is only 6 acres in size, but you would never know that by looking at the huge variety and quantity of goods they produce! When you visit A Different Chick’s booth at the Johnson City Farmers Market, you’ll be amazed at the options; they grow hot pepper varieties you’ve never heard of, along with specialty melons, quirky squash, and a whole host of gorgeous staple produce. 

They also propogate fruit trees for sale and raise rare breed chickens. And as of this year, they are the first farm to become USDA Certified Organic in Washington County. There’s a reason there aren’t many organic farms around – it’s a BIG undertaking to acheive certification. Most folks understand that organic farms don’t use pesticides (except in extreme circumstances when they work with the USDA to find an appropriate and approved option), but there is a lot more to organic certification than avoiding chemical contaminants. Organic growers must use organic seeds that have never been treated with fungicides or genetically modified. They must know the origin of their seeds. If they raise animals, the animals must be fed organic feed, allowed to graze, and must be healthy. They also have to employ crop rotation and maintain healthy soil – both practices assist with biodiversity and preventative pest and disease control. You can read more about organic practices on the USDA’s Factsheet. It’s also very expensive. It varies based on farm size and other things, but the USDA says it costs “a few hundred to several thousand dollars.”

“We have been CNG (Certified Naturally Grown) for 3 years and have been practicing organic farming since 2012 so we have been aware of the benefits of organic growing,” said Tiffany Stanley of A Different Chick. “We knew that the costs of USDA Organic certification was out of our reach so we found a Grant to apply for through CCOF and Anheuser Bush. We applied at the beginning of the year and got accepted after a few months. We immediately started the paperwork for the organic certification with CCOF. Thankfully since we had been practicing organic farming and strictly following the USDA Organic guidelines, getting certified was very easy!”

Tiffany said the process took about five months in total, and that it involved a lot more paperwork than she expected. Nevertheless, she and her family are glad to have done it. Ask about their reasons for seeking certification, she said, “Our family knows what chemicals in our food can do to our health and the environment. We have several members of our family that have food sensitivities that are likely linked with the chemicals that are used in food production. It is those allergies and sensitivities that first got us exploring what was being used in farming techniques and how it affected our food and bodies. We learned that conventional farming with chemicals not only has a negative effect on the land but also on the farmers and those that consume the produce. We read horror stories of how farmers that had been spraying chemicals for years had ended up having fatal cancers. The more we read and were informed the more we realized we didn’t want to have anything to do with chemicals on our farm. The first three years transitioning out of conventional farming was really tough, it was hard for things to grow and we really struggled but each year we could see improvement. We now have fertile soil and an abundance of beneficial insects and more earthworms working the soil than we would have ever imagined! We have also seen our own allergies and sensitivities get better through the years along with our personal health.”

Tiffany wants more people to be informed about what it means to buy organic products. “I wish people knew that being organic is not just using “organic” products. We found out through the process of being certified that there are a lot of products on the market that say “for organic gardening” that are not at all for use in organic gardening. We even found out some of the companies with those products will not even disclose the ingredient list. It is frightening that a company is allowed to tell consumers that a product is for organic gardening and could potentially have the same chemical makeup as RoundUp. It is even more alarming that there are farmers using those products and telling consumers that the produce is organically grown. We also know that organic farming is more than using organic products, it is doing the best you can to improve soil conditions and improve the living organisms on your land, basically, it is leaving the land better off than when you started.”

A Different Chick Farm and Orchard is a Community Supported Agriculture farm as well – meaning they sell shares of their harvest at the beginning of the season. Selling shares in this way allows the farm to have cash flow at the beginning when they are planting, propagating, purchasing new equipment, etc., and it secures the consumer’s share of the harvest. As a consumer, do you think you would eat more veggies if you had already paid for them and knew they were being harvested for you each week? You can check out A Different Chick’s CSA options on their website. Make sure to poke around to see everything they have to offer as well, and when farmers markets open in the spring you can find them set up every Saturday at the Johnson City Farmers Market.