How Kashi helps wheat farmers become Certified Organic
A few weeks ago, I found myself reading the back of my cereal box. I was eating Kashi’s Cinnamon French Toast cereal, and the box told the story of Certified Transitional wheat. Certified Transitional is Kashi’s answer to how to work with farmers who are in the process of changing their farming methods from conventional to organic, a process that takes at least three years.
The USDA has pretty strict requirements when it comes to farmers who want to be able to label their crops Certified Organic. Farmers must farm using organic practices for three years before they can officially apply for organic certification, and any crops grown this three-year period are considered “transitional” by the USDA. To give farmers recognition and incentive to continue with the organic certification process, Kashi created Certified Transitional, a program that has created a market to sell these farmers’ crops.
“A few years ago, one of our team members visited a farm and learned how hard it is for farmers to transition from conventional to organic farming practices,” Jeanne Wilson, Associate Director for Kashi Marketing, told me in an email. “These conversations, combined with the challenges we’ve faced in sourcing organic ingredients, inspired us to seek a solution that would support farmers and increase the availability and accessibility of organics for people. Certified Transitional was our answer.”
Certified Transitional isn’t a marketing gimmick. Kashi partnered with QAI, an independent organization and USDA-accredited organic-certifying agency, to create Certified Transitional. Wilson explained that QAI created guidelines for each year of the farmer’s transitional period, as well as requirement for processors to separate transitional crops (instead of simply separating crops into conventional and organic brackets). Additionally, QAI created a process for verifying on-the-ground transitional farming practices, which get the land on track for eligibility to be certified organic. Wilson also noted that now, any agricultural producer, including farmers growing non-food crops like cotton, can obtain transitional certification by applying through QAI.
“We wanted the Certified Transitional protocol to be an open source system, open to any brand, even a competitor, to help speed the transition to organics at a much larger scale than Kashi could accomplish alone," Wilson said. In fact, just this past March, the agribusiness company Bunge announced they will offer Certified Transitional corn.
In May 2016, Kashi launched their first cereal made with Certified Transitional ingredients, Dark Cocoa Karma Shredded Wheat Biscuits. Each year since they have introduced a new Certified Transitional food, such as Chewy Nut Butter Bars and their Cinnamon French Toast cereal.
“Since we launched Certified Transitional in 2016, farmers have received $1 million in premiums and thousands of acres are on their way to organic,” Wilson said. “This helps build a new marketplace for farmers to sell these ‘organics in training’ and gives them another incentive to make the switch to organic. Ultimately, this will help increase the amount of organic farmland in the US.”
Kashi plans to continue to nurture their Certified Transitional line: as farmers “graduate” from the Certified Transitional program, they can sell their crops anywhere on the organic market. According to Wilson, 15 farms have participated in the Certified Transitional program since the launch, one farm has graduated to organic (this farm now supplies wheat for Kashi products made with organic shredded wheat), and the company has continues to bring in new farms currently in the transitional process.