Why EcoCertified for the Northeast?
Growers in the Northeast are longtime leaders in adopting and promoting eco-friendly practices that adapt to growing conditions and climate in their region. The most ecological and effective practices aren’t the same for every locale.
The Eco program has created a rigorous protocol of the most advanced Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices, tailored to growing conditions in the Northeast. Growers in the Eco program go above and beyond to ensure that the best apples are both local and ecologically grown.
1. EcoCertified supports the best ecological farming practices for our region:
The most ecological and effective farming practices aren’t the same for every locale. EcoCertified practices are designed for growing conditions in this region, to protect pollinators and wildlife, promote soil and tree health, and treat orchards as holistic ecosystems.
Although the Northeast grows some of the best apples in the world, over 93% of certified organic apples sold in the US come from the Pacific Northwest, where the organic production protocol is a good fit for the regional climate. But tree fruit growers in the Northeast face more than sixty species of damaging insects, twice as many diseases, and a much wetter climate compared to the Pacific Northwest – making certified organic production not always the most sustainable approach.
EcoCertified offers the best combination of Local + Ecologically grown in the eastern U.S.
2. EcoCertified offers transparency and integrity
To qualify as EcoCertified, growers meet rigorous production standards that ensure consistent, environmentally responsible, and transparent practices are behind every piece of fruit. To earn the Eco label, growers must follow rigorous growing standards, annual audits, and ongoing reviews of the latest science and innovative practices.
3. EcoCertified growers are rooted in their communities.
EcoCertified growers bring decades of stewardship and knowledge of their land and trees to the many complex challenges involved in bringing healthy, great-tasting fruit from tree to table. They care for their farms, workers, and local communities. That care connects everyone who eats and is nourished by their fruit.
Most sustainable fruit growers — including organic, biodynamic, and Eco — rely on Integrated Pest Management philosophy in their orchards. IPM is an ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on the long-term prevention of pests and their damage. IPM uses various techniques, including biological control, habitat manipulation, and resistant varieties. The highest risk treatments are prohibited, and permitted pesticides are used as a last resort and only after careful monitoring.
In IPM, treatments are made to protect fruit quality and strengthen the orchard overall, not just remove a particular pest. IPM practices vary by location, season, climate and variety, and must be adapted to the region in which they are applied — that’s where the Eco label comes in.
The program addresses farming challenges specific to this region, and continually adapts to deliver better, more ecologically-grown fruit – season by season, crop by crop, orchard by orchard.
The EcoCertified Protocol is a living document, revised annually to reflect the best available scientific methods for growing fruit in our region. Growers meet regularly with Red Tomato, IPM consultants and crop specialists, extension agents, scientists, and other growers. By including the most recent research and grower experience in the protocol, growers in the Eco program are on the cutting edge of advanced IPM strategies.
The EcoCertified Core Protocol is extensive, and covers six areas of farm practices:
- Operations, Food Safety and Management
- Ecosystem and Water Conservation
- Soil, and Orchard Floor Enhancement
- Pest Management and Pesticide Risk Reduction
- Pollinator Protection and Enhancement
- Energy and Waste Management
Additionally, EcoCertified requires specific strategies designed to address pest pressures and management techniques unique to each crop.
Curious to see the details? The current protocols are always available on the IPM Institute of North America website!
EcoCertified growers are focused on protecting their pollinators and other beneficial insects and work hard to protect ground and surface water, wildlife, soil, and orchard health, all while growing a marketable crop.
In partnership with the IPM Institute of North America and scientists from across the country, we continually evaluate Eco protocols to include the most up-to-date research. We rely on experts like the Danforth Lab at Cornell University, and the Xerces Society to stay current with research on both native and commercial bees and pollinators, and to support growing practices that protect and nurture these essential partners in the life cycle of healthy fruit.
A 2017 analysis of audit records showed the use of high-risk chemicals among five Eco-certified orchards (those participating in the program the longest) had decreased 59% since 2004, the year before the program began, and has continued to drop 18% since 2010.
Northeast orchards have been part of our region’s landscape, economy and heritage for generations. They grow some of the best-tasting apples in the world, including varieties you’ll find nowhere else. Apple growers succeed in the face of many challenges. Weather, concentration of supply, global market pressures, consolidation of retail and processing markets, and invasive pests can all put a crop, or a family’s livelihood at risk.
Some of the best-eating apples in the world are grown in the Northeast: established varieties like Macoun, McIntosh, Cortland, Empire, JonaGold, and new varieties bred to be especially suited to the region: Evercrisp, Ludacrisp, Ruby Frost, SnapDragon.
It takes years to change varieties in an orchard —tearing out and replacing trees or regrafting. Thousands of acres of regional varieties are being replaced by new, popular varieties like Honeycrisp, Gala and Fuji. These new varieties are tasty and immensely popular and also grow well in our region. But while those varieties are available everywhere, they are also crowding out the regional varieties, the apples that make the Northeast the Northeast. Making a place in the market for both old and new is one benefit of the Eco program’s regional focus.
One of the first named apple varieties grown in North America is the Roxbury Russet. Originally found in what is now the Roxbury neighborhood deep in the city of Boston, the first Roxbury Russets were so highly prized for their flavor that they became a proud replacement for the European varieties first brought over by colonists, and started the march toward a vibrant NE apple industry. Roxbury Russet and hundreds of other heirloom varieties, for eating and for cider, are still grown in orchards throughout the region. Learn more about heirlooms [link to heirloom page] and popular varieties [link to apple product page] here.
Next time you buy apples, try one you’ve never tasted before!
The EcoCertified program was launched in 2005 as a partnership between Red Tomato and a committed group of orchards and scientists, many who were involved in an earlier program called Core Values Northeast. The goal then and now is to support growers in our region by bringing together the best of local and ecological growing practices, educating the public about their value, and building a market that keeps local orchards thriving and local apples abundant.
In the 15+ years since, Red Tomato has sold over $25 million and 1.2 million cases of EcoCertified fruit – peaches and apples—in addition to millions more sold directly by certified orchards and enjoyed by grocery stores, farmers markets, farm stands, and pick-your-own customers across the Northeast.
The Eco program has been developed with the support of funders including:
USDA, EPA Region 1, Northeastern IPM Center, Northeast Farm Credit, Farm Aid, Toward Sustainability, and many generous individual supporters of Red Tomato.
We have a big vision for the EcoCertified Program, one we know is audacious for a small nonprofit like Red Tomato and the dedicated orchards and partners who founded the program. We believe that thinking big is the only way to ultimately have an impact that reaches a broad audience, strengthens small and mid-sized farms throughout our region and beyond, and builds the kind of sustainable, just and vibrant food system we need and want. Our plans for the program include:
- long-term communications research and marketing to educate consumers about the farming practices behind Eco. Learn more at the Farming and Food Narrative Project webpage.
- expanding EcoCertified and Eco grower networks beyond the Northeast, starting with growers in the Mid-Atlantic and upper Midwest, and
- supporting research and training to help growers stay ahead of the most progressive, effective and responsible practices not only for their fruit trees, but also for their employees and their supply chains.
Everything it takes to bring more local, ecologically grown fruit from more orchards to more tables!