San Diego County has always been at the forefront of organic farming. The county has 347 growers registered as organic. In 2011, San Diego County organic growers produced over 150 different crops on 6,700 acres. Crop varieties range from the usual such as oranges, grapes, and avocados to the unusual like cherimoyas, loquats, and jujubes.
The majority of organic produce grown locally is sold to wholesalers who in turn sell it to markets all the way from San Francisco to New York City. A portion of the produce is sold directly to local restaurants and natural food stores. Organic growers also sell directly to the public through produce stands, Certified Farmers' Markets throughout the County of San Diego, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. Members of a CSA program receive boxes of fresh organic fruits and vegetables delivered throughout the year for a weekly or annual fee.
The California Organic Products Act of 2003 was created at the request of the organic food industry with the goal of protecting producers, handlers, processors, retailers, and consumers of organic foods sold in California. The law amended existing California organic law to conform with the requirements of the National Organic Program (NOP) and enforced labeling requirements relating to "organic" claims for fresh agricultural products.
The law divides the oversight responsibilities between the Department of Health Services (DHS) which is responsible for processed food products, cosmetics and pet food, and the California Department of Agriculture (CDFA) which is responsible for raw agricultural commodities, meat, poultry, and dairy products. The County Agricultural Commissioners work with CDFA's Organic Program in registering organic growers, enforcing applicable organic laws and regulations, and investigating consumer complaints regarding organic products.
The production of organic produce is one of the fastest-growing categories in the food industry today. In 2005, nearly two-thirds of U.S. consumers bought organic foods and beverages, up from about half in 2004. During the past decade, U.S. sales have grown 20 percent or more annually. Organic food and beverage sales nationally are estimated to have topped $15 billion in 2004. Sales are projected to more than double by 2009.
So what can the public count on when they buy products labeled as organic?
Organic fruits and vegetables are grown using only botanical or primarily non-synthetic pest controls. Fertilizers made with sewage sludge or synthetic ingredients allowed in most conventional food production cannot be used. No genetically engineered modification or irradiation is permitted. All organic products sold in the U.S. must comply with the Organic Food Production Act of 1990. Organic products sold in California must also comply with the California Organic Products Act of 2003.