The increasing popularity of organic agriculture has been a source of confusion to many. What are the benefits? Is organic actually better? Could the crops and livestock feed be contaminated with herbicides and pesticides from neighboring non-organic farms? These are all valid questions in which I will help you navigate in this post.
In order for a farm to be certified organic, there are a number of requirements that must be met. These include:
- The land cannot be treated with prohibited pesticides, herbicides (for example, Round-Up) or fertilizers for 3 years prior to certification.
- Pest and weed management and fertilization methods must be natural and organically approved. Mechanical and physical methods are encouraged and include trapping insects and hoeing weeds.
- Having clear and effective buffer zones to prevent prohibited substances from coming in contact with organic land. This may include runoff diversions, solid barriers, etc.
- The farmer must use organic seeds or prove that no organic alternative was available. Under no circumstances may the seeds be genetically modified (GMO).
To qualify as certified organic livestock, both the land and animals must be managed according to the following organic methods:
- Poultry must be raised under organic methods by the second day of life.
- Livestock must be fed 100% organic feed.
- Cattle, sheep, and all other ruminants must be out to pasture for at least 120 days.
- No growth hormones or antibiotics are allowed for any reason.
- All animals must have access to outdoors year round.
*For complete details of the National Organic Program, visit www.ecfr.gov/
Due to these requirements, organic agricultural methods result in many nutritional, social, and environmental benefits. Research shows that organic produce is significantly higher in antioxidants compared to conventionally grown produce. Also, by choosing organic foods you greatly reduce your risk of exposure to dangerous herbicides and pesticides such as glyphosate and organophosphates. Glyphosate is a herbicide acknowledged as a “probable carcinogen” by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. Organophosphates are a widely used and highly toxic group of insecticides that cause a host of acute symptoms such as wheezing and productive cough, and chronic symptoms, such as impaired memory and depressed mood, after long-term exposure. This is especially relevant for farmers and their families who are at risk of exposure via inhalation, which “results in the fastest appearance of toxic symptoms”. Lastely, purchasing organic animal products reduces your exposure to antibiotics and therefore, antibiotic resistant bacteria. This is important because when harmful bacterial populations transform and adapt in the presence of antibiotics, bacterial infections such as pneumonia and tuberculosis become more difficult to treat.
Below are simple tips on how to purchase organic without breaking the bank.
- Purchase produce with the greatest amount of pesticide residues as organic and those with the lowest likelihood of containing residues as non-organic. You can download and print the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” free user guides at www.ewg.org/foodnews! The top Dirty Dozen foods the EWG found to be highest in pesticides are strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, and cherries. Bring the guide with you when you go grocery shopping.
- Sign up for CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) at a local organic farm. In a CSA model, members purchase a share of the farmer’s production at the beginning of the growing season. In return, members receive baskets of produce and other farmed goods on a weekly or bi-weekly basis at a great price. To learn more and find a local CSA near you visit localharvest.org/csa
- Grow your own food. You don’t need a garden to do this. Planting some herbs and basic vegetables, such as tomatoes or lettuce, in a pot or a sunny windowsill is simple and cost effective. I have also been successful re-growing produce from scraps. With foods such as green onions, celery, lettuce, potatoes and ginger, this is easy and fast to do! It can also be a fun project for kids!
- Buy seasonal and local. Food is typically cheaper when there is more to harvest and it hasn’t been shipped across the world. Local also means the produce is also likely higher in nutrients as nutrient density diminishes rapidly from the moment the food is picked.
- Buy in bulk. If something is on sale, stock up and freeze it. I frequently do this with more expensive foods like avocados and berries.
- If you are unable to purchase organic, you can buy a fruit and vegetable wash to remove pesticides, waxes (often found on apples to make them shiny) and other chemicals. Trader Joe’s sells a great one. A dash of pure Castille soap (such as Dr. Bronner’s) diluted in water will also work. I typically do this regardless if a food is organic, just in case!