Talking about organics can sometimes stir up as much controversy in a conversation as bringing up religion or politics. It's a topic with fervent followers and stoic skeptics, and after my children were born, I started leaning more toward the fervent follower side of things. Over the past few years my interest in organics has grown to the point where not only do I try to feed my family organics as much as possible, but I've started a business delivering organic fruits and vegetables to people's homes and offices, plus I write a regular organic gardening column for the Denver Examiner.
The decision of "going organic" is understandably not an easy one to make. There are so many choices about organics out there that it can seem overwhelming. And what does it mean to be organic anyway? The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) defines organic as follows:
"Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled "organic," a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards."
What Does That Mean For Us?
Does the benefit to the animals, plants and their caretakers translate to the consumer and our children in some sort of measurable context other than making a bigger dent in our wallets? In the April 2008 issue of Organic Gardening magazine a study from the University of Newcastle on Tyne was reported to have found that, "Organic fruits and vegetables contain up to 40 percent more antioxidants than non-organic produce." Project coordinator Carol Leifert told the BBC News that the ongoing study found that, "there are more of certain nutritionally desirable compounds and less of the baddies in organic foods, or improved amounts of the fatty acids you want and less of those you don't."
In the organic vs. conventional buying decision then there is always the "list" that people talk about when choosing which produce to buy. According to the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit research group, the top ten foods that retain the most pesticides are strawberries, bell peppers, spinach, cherries, peaches, Mexican cantaloupe, celery, apples, apricots, and green beans. While a good starting point for sure when talking about the best organics to buy based on our own consumption, I like to think of the bigger picture. For me it's important to teach my children how buying organics is not only good for us, but for the farmers that grew our food and the environment.
Buying organic has broadened for our family. In addition to the organic certification, we consider the small farmers who practice organics but don't have the capital to get the certification necessary to label their food as such. We consider where our food is grown and like to make choices that are as local to where we live as possible. I consider this thinking "beyond organic."
When people ask me about organics or how to get started, I recommend starting wherever they can. In Denver, shopping for your produce at Vitamin Cottage, which carries only organic produce, is a good place to start in the winter months. Visiting farmers' markets in the spring through fall months gives you the opportunity to meet the farmers themselves. Not all farmers' markets participants are organic growers so be sure to ask if it's not clearly posted. Growing our own organic food is by far the least expensive way to bring organics into our homes, and a highly rewarding experience that the whole family can take part in. I don't think there are any hard and fast answers to this question.
The Bottom Line
As with anything that is good for us and the environment, making any organic choice, however small, will make an impact. We need look no further than our own children to know how small successes lead to big milestones. Perhaps someday, our children won't have to make this decision, because all of their options will be safe for them and the environment.
Aimee is the Denver City Editor for The Savvy Source. You can read more of her work every day at Being Savvy Denver.