Making Choices, Making Compromises, and knitting with Organic Wool Yarns
There are so many types of organic yarns that to list the types would take us ages. From bamboo to wool, a yarn can be defined as organic if it simply doesn't use petro-chemical dyes, or it can be uber-organic, and show the hand of someone nearby who made it. Not all of us have access to both kinds, nor the pocketbook to choose only one (yes, true organic, handmade yarns are usually more expensive - the sad but real fact of manual vs. machine labor, mostly). But simply being aware of the different levels of organic yarns can help us understand the contribution we all make to promoting a better way of being in the world.
The Basics, the standards, the deal on organic yarn standards.
Fiber in the US that is sold as organic must be grown according to USDA Organic Standars. Farmland is certified organic, and it must be accredited by a an organic third-party certifier. Organic cotton, in particular, is mostly grown abroad - but when it enters the US, it must meet USDA standards.
Organic wool is particulary tricky. Organic wool comes in a variety of flavors - but the basics are that it must come from livestock and land that has been grown and raised according to USDA organic standards and certified, again, by third party organic certifying agencies. Federal organic standards DO NOT cover processing, but the industry has developed a set of voluntry standards, and yarns labeled organic adhere to these. The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is the gold standard for voluntary standards, and are followed by most fiber producers. You can tell a lot about how really organic a yarn is, sometimes, but how it feels? Organic yarn can be processed - does that make it less organic? That is a decision that you may have to make, and you may have to research the yarn you are interested in. Organically harvested yarn that is then chemically dyed with damaging dyestuffs - is that truly organic? The label may be on it, but it may not represent what you are truly interested when you say organic yarn - you may mean a low-impact, organic, low-process yarn. Does it have specks of hay, is it lanolin-y (the oil from the sheep?). Is the cotton overprocessed, mercerized? What does that mean in terms of how organic it really is? You'll have to decide what level of organic you are comfortable with, and whether or not you believe the label and the company making the organic yarns.
What does Organic Yarn mean for you?
You'll need to decide what level of organic, or impact, you need to support, or not support, in the world. Compared to the Gulf Of Mexico Spill by BP, the small amount of energy that it took to make one 1/2 organically harvest skein of yarn. But multiply that by, how many knitters are on raverly, and it becomes a little more clear how much we can impact our environment if even 1 in 10 of us decide to go TOTALLY organic, 2 out of 5 go for low impact organics, and the others simply stay local.
Every single thought about it, and every effort, helps, so make your choices, and feel good about them.