When bugs find their way onto the crops at Regina's Certified Organic Vegetable Farm, owner Regina Gentile pays workers $12 an hour to pick off the pests by hand.

"We do have approved substances that we're allowed to use, but I just found that it's a better option for me to have them handpicked," Gentile said. "That has to take place at least once a day, sometimes twice a day."

Just about everything involved with keeping her Howell operation certified organic adds up to thousands of dollars in extra expenses, compared to a traditional farm.

"It's a lot of hard work. It's not all about the money, though," Gentile said. "It's the satisfaction that I get from being a certified organic farmer."

According to a database from the United States Department of Agriculture, 55 farms in New Jersey are certified organic by the state Department of Agriculture.

That certification comes with an annual fee, depending on the size of the operation.

The certification fee is about $800 for Chickadee Creek Farm in Pennington. Owner Jessica Niederer said the farm takes advantage of a cost-share program through the state to help with the fee.

heirloom tomatoes
Heirloom tomatoes from Chickadee Creek Farm in Pennington

Niederer said inspectors check the property on a yearly basis to ensure they're running a truly organic operation on 14 acres.

"They check our records and they check our supplies," she said. "They poke their heads into our seed cabinets and our storage of materials, and look around to make sure that we're not breaking any rules."

As part of initial certification, it must be determined that a farm is not using land that had been used for non-organic purposes in the past three years.

According to Kyle Goedde, farm manager at Great Road Farm in Skillman, the heaviest lift of keeping up with certification is the record-keeping that's involved.

"Anytime something gets seeded or planted, or we add some kind of fertilizer to the field, we have to log all of that so it can be traced," Goedde said. "It kind of makes you a better farmer in that it's forcing you to take notes and pay attention, and that makes it easier for you to plan for the next year."

Goedde said the necessary paperwork includes a 20-30 page document that must be submitted each year, highlighting how the operation runs.

Find an organic farm in New Jersey:

  • Enter the database
  • Click the drop-down for Certifier, scroll down and click on New Jersey Department of Agriculture.
  • In the Operation field at top, type farm and press enter.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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