Location: Provident Organic Farm, Bivalve, Maryland
Featuring: Farmer Jay Martin
Farmers are willing to share their ideas and insights, but the current processes and standards behind organic certification are now in place primarily to facilitate the growth of organics as an industry. Such certification stifles innovation by the very farmers who initiated the movement.
How did Jay Martin end up with an organic farm that isn’t certified organic? Three reasons: financial, philosophical, and personal. Jay Martin uses Face Certification as his standard. The direct contact between farmers and consumers creates an environment of trust and faith. As Jay Martin says, “People don’t need to read a piece of paper or a certification to judge what produce they’re buying. All they have to do is look me in the eye.” This motto is reflective of the Japanese word teikei. In English, teikei means “food with a farmers face on it.”
Face Certification with Jay Martin
Jay Martin began gardening organically in 1973 in upstate New York. In 1980 he moved with his family to Bivalve, Maryland, where he worked as a waterman. He and his wife Kathy later started Silver Seed Greenhouses, a major supplier of organic transplants for the mid-Atlantic region. Silver Seed was the first and only certified organic, wholesale greenhouse operation in Maryland. While running Silver Seed, Jay also cultivated an acre garden for the farmer's market in Salisbury, Maryland. Jay sold Silver Seed Greenhouses in 2001 to create Provident Organic Farm CSA and pursue his dream of a safe, just and sustainable food system for this region.
Face certification is one way to assure you know where your food is from and how it was grown. Jay Martin uses face certification instead of labeling to promote the importance of eating local and knowing your farmer.
Douglas Gayeton: When I traveled through the South a year ago, making images for the Lexicon Project, I repeatedly came across farms that were not organic. They actually have a phrase that they use, which was “local first, certification second.” Have you heard that before?
Jay Martin: I have not heard that before but I know a lot of people share that sentiment. Our farmer’s market customers seem to be more concerned that you’re local than you are organic. You can impact a farmer’s growing practices if you raise questions. Once consumers get to know their farmers, they want to know more about their growing practices. I think farmers are responding to that. Consumers can affect the change in the grower.
Douglas Gayeton: Can you give me the definition of “face certification?”
Jay Martin: That direct contact between the farmer and the consumer creates an environment for trust and faith. It’s a good relationship to have with your customers, and customers to have with their providers.
Douglas Gayeton: It seems to put a lot of responsibility on the consumers though. They have to know the right questions to ask.
Jay Martin: They do, and the information is available. I don’t ever try to hide anything from people. I let them know exactly what I do if whatever they ask me. I don’t think they need a piece of paper or any kind of certificate to tell them how to judge what their produce is. All they really need to do is just look me in the eye.
Douglas Gayeton: Are you familiar with the Japanese concept called “Teikei”?
Jay Martin: Yeah I am. Teikei farms were formed in Japan as the Japanese population urbanized after the Second World War. As I understand, the translation of teikei means "food with the farmer’s face on it." That’s where I came up with the idea of face certification.