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Organic Vegetables and Fruits
General Product Features
Organic fruits and vegetables will often look less robust and healthy than their less healthy chemically fed counterparts. They will often feature various labels indicating their organic status. When you eat them, you will notice a difference in taste between them and their non-organic counterparts.
How does it help the environment
Agricultural runoff from fertilizer is the main contributor to excess phosphates in our waterways, which choke off aqueous ecosystems by encouraging algae blooms.
Buying organic usually also means buying local, although the wary shopper should keep an eye out for organic produce imported from much further afield than it should be. Buying local is something that we all can do immediately in order to combat climate change and global warming.
1,200 million pounds of pesticides are used in the US alone to grow vegetables (this isn’t even counting fruits). Pesticides have sparked numerous environmental concerns, including degrading soil quality and carcinogens. Frequently pesticides that are banned in first-world countries are used in poorer countries to accelerate crops.
Organic fruits and vegetables feature various labels indicating their organic status. When shopping at a box store or a grocery store, this is usually the only information that you get. If you really don’t have time to change your habits to buy from local farmers, buying organic at your usual shopping spot is the best way to go.
Organic fruits and vegetables don’t use chemically enhanced fertilizers or pesticides in their production. Organic farmers also use more sustainable farming techniques than conventional farmers.
What to look for when buying
Purchasing at a Health Food Store
Purchasing your produce at a health food/organic food store does not automatically guarantee that it is an “organic” product. Check primarily for locally grown produce at your health food store to ensure that you are getting what you are paying for.
Police the Local Farmer’s Market
There are no rules at a farmer’s market for where the food is sourced from (at least not at most of them – those billed as an organic farmer’s market will often have more stringent policies). It is possible that the vendor simply purchased food from a food terminal and is turning it around at the market for a profit. Check the labels on the produce and strike up a rapport with the vendors to make sure that you are truly “going local”. If you find one of these vendors, make sure that your friends who shop there know where not to go, and encourage the local farmers to put up signage indicating their local nature.
Go Organic With the Worst Offenders
Most of us can’t afford organic for all of our vegetable needs. Try to buy these fruits and vegetables organically if you can’t afford to buy everything organic:
- Winter Squash
- Green Beans
Go Local with the Rest
If you are lucky enough to live in an area with lots of farms, take advantage of it. Your local farmer makes much better margins selling directly to you than to a grocery store, so they will want your business in most cases. Many cities are now running programs where they are giving out maps of local farms that sell to the public; see if you can get hooked up with one of these, and if not your local farms will present themselves on a simple Google search.
While you may spend a little more money in gas going to a local farm, think of all of the petroleum that is spent getting produce from Mexico or South America to a US or Canadian destination. This little extra that you are spending offsets such massive inequities; and you will find that the fruits and vegetables taste better minus the pesticides.
You will also find that local farmers are organic farmers, or at least try to be. Like any other small business, they are interested in quality and will often take care to grow organic, even if they don’t have the concurrent certifications.
Certifications are a Good Start, but not yet 100%
Keep in mind that large businesses will always lobby (i.e. pay money) to keep certifications as “close to the line” as possible so that they can turn a profit. Local farmers often can’t afford the expensive certification process, meaning that perfectly organic produce may not feature an “organic” label. While it is hard to otherwise tell whether or not your produce is indeed 100% Organic, diligent product research and visits to your local farmer are much better than an organic label of any kind. If you simply don’t have time to put in more of an effort, then of course you need to rely on them.
Location, Location, Location…
There are definitely tradeoffs to organic versus local. The biggest one being, of course, petroleum use and costs. As mentioned above, local farmers usually can’t afford the expensive organic certification process. Even so, this does not always mean that they don’t use chemicals in the farming process. Like everything else, it boils down to common sense. If you live in California, and the organic strawberries are coming from Peru, you may want to “go local” instead. Keep in mind as well that the organic label is often misused, where the local label is hard to fake.
Grow Your Own
With rising food costs everyone is considering growing their own fruits and vegetables. If you have a good-sized plot of land in farming country, all you need to do is talk to a friend with a garden of their own and do some research. If you live in the city or don’t have a large plot of land, most farms often have programs where they rent out a plot of land to you for a small rental charge.
If you can only find a plot on a “conventional” farm, just be careful to only use organic fertilizer and pesticides on your plot. Technically a farm needs to have proper barriers to be considered an organic farm, but as long as you aren’t trying to sell any of your produce with the “organic” label you should be fine. You should be careful to plant crops that are most affected by chemicals (see above list) away from the edges of the plot in order to minimize the damage caused by the conventional plots next to you.
Organic seeds can be purchased from any number of online sources; be careful to order them from within your own country as seeds are frequently irradiated at border crossings.
- Australian Organic Food Directory
- A resource for Australians on where to find organic everything.
- Institute of Food Studies
- Organic Foods Study