A trip to the produce department or farmers market is a great start to a meal: fresh greens, vegetables, natural meats. Choices about buying red or orange peppers aside, there are choices about which peppers or meats or wines are the healthier ones-for the consumer and the planet. Knowing the terminology and some background is helpful.
When someone says "organic," there is sometimes a vision of the 1960's with unkempt hippies wearing flowers and smoking more than the occasional cigarette; or maybe the vision of grass and seaweed in a blender comes to mind. Both are outdated myths.
Organic is actually a stringent farming system that reduces or eliminates chemicals and man-made additives. The certification process is time consuming and expensive for farmers, so it takes real dedication and commitment to ecology and health.
T-L Photo/Glynis Valenti
Farmers markets are great places to buy organic and meet local growers.
Why is some organic produce more expensive than that of industrial agriculture? Because organic produce often comes from smaller yield farms which cannot use the pesticides, growth hormones and genetically altered seeds that corporation-subsidized farms mandate. Lettuce, potatoes, strawberries, beef, pork and chickens are mass-produced for mass consumption, and what they take into their "bodies" ends up in ours. Grass-fed beef, cage-free chickens and farmers market potatoes may be more expensive to raise, but their growth is natural and cruelty-free rather than hormone-induced in large buildings.
Though studies show no significant difference in basic nutritional value between organic and agro-industry products, studies do show higher levels of natural vitamins and minerals and lower levels of toxic substances and fecal matter in organically farmed produce, meats and milk.
Organic wines are becoming more popular in the United States. To be labeled organic, the grapes must be organically grown and processed at a certified organic winery, and no sulfites may be added as preservatives. Wine may still contain naturally produced sulfites as a by-product of fermentation. However, those with sensitivity to sulfites should find their symptoms greatly reduced or non-existent when drinking organic wines.
Other farming terms that you may see on labels or signs include:
Maple Ridge Vineyard in Madison, Ohio practices sustainable farming. Owner Jim Iubelt explains how: "We use compost teas, sheep, steers, chickens and other animals for natural fertilization. We reintroduce the grape pomace back into the vineyard. We do not throw away what can be cycled into the farm. We raise our own hay for the sheep and allow the animals to free-range. The steers are somewhat of an exception, since they are 4-H and require locally produced feed which does not come from our farm. Patti (wife) and I had both supported organic, and Patti gardened organically. Neither of us believes in man-made substances for production advantages."
Though many wineries today use organic farming practices and processes, most opt not to go through the certification process. A close look at the wine label will insure that your wine purchase is better for you and the environment. Sobon Estate (California) is certified organic. Local wine merchants can point out their individual selections.
As a new growing season begins, hit the markets as an educated consumer. Think about the effects of pesticides and chemicals not just on the environment and soils that grow your food, but on your body as it takes in that food-over the course of months or years. With fewer dollars to spend, make the most of them buying healthier foods that support the local economy.
Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.