The Where and How of Organic Foods

Fresh assorted vegetables in boxes on farmer’s market

Recently I wrote about the importance of consuming mostly organic foods. If you missed that piece, you can catch up with it right here.

Organic food is more expensive than conventionally grown food, for sure. Hopefully, that will change as more and more people opt for really clean food for their bodies. For now, here are a few ideas to help you get the biggest bang for your buck.

Know Your Produce Pesticide Levels.

Some types of conventionally grown produce are much higher in pesticides than others, and should be avoided. Others are low enough that buying the non-organic variety is less troublesome. The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization that analyzes the results of government pesticide testing in the U.S. offers and annually-updated list that can help hide your choices.

According to the Environmental Working group, the following fruits and vegetables have the highest pesticide levels, so are best to buy organic when you can:

                                                                   Apples                                                                                         Kale/Collard Greens

                                                                    Sweet Bell Peppers                                                                  Summer Squash

                                                                    Cucumbers                                                                                Nectarines (imported)

                                                                     Celery                                                                                        Peaches

                                                                     Potatoes                                                                                    Spinach

                                                                     Grapes                                                                                      Strawberries

                                                                     Cherry Tomatoes                                                                    Hot Peppers

Fruits and vegetables you don’t have to be quite as careful about buying organic, are the following “Clean 15.” They are generally lower in pesticides.

Asparagus                                                                             Onion

Avocado                                                                                Papaya

Mushrooms                                                                          Pineapple

Cabbage                                                                                 Sweet Peas

Sweet Corn                                                                            Sweet Potatoes

Eggplant                                                                                Grapefruit

Kiwi                                                                                         Cantaloupe

Mango

Where You Shop Matters.

Here are three ways to keep the cost of organic food within your budget

  1. Shop at farmers’ markets. Many cities, as well as small towns, host a weekly (or bi-weekly) farmers’ market where local farmers sell their produce at an open-air street market, often at a discount to grocery stores.
  2. Join a food co-op. a natural foods co-0p, or cooperative grocery store typically offers lower prices to members, who pay an annual fee to belong.
  3. Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, in which individuals and families join up to purchase “shares” of produce in bulk, directly from a local farm. Local and organic!
  4. Local health food stores generally have local organic produce for sale. It has the benefit of not having to travel very long or far, and being free of unhealthy additions.

Organic Food Buying Tips

Buy in season. Fruits and vegetables are cheapest and freshest when they are in season.  Find out when produce is delivered to your market so you’re buying the freshest food possible.

Shop around. Compare the price of organic items at the grocery store, the farmers’ markets, online, and in other venues.

Remember that organic doesn’t always equal healthy. A favorite marketing ploy in the food industry  is to make junk food sound healthy. However, baked goods, desserts, and snacks are usually still very processed and high in sugar, fat, calories, or all of them. It pays to read labels very carefully, or, better yet, stay away from highly processed foods, no matter how appealing the packaging makes it look.

Summary

Organic food is more labor intensive since farmers do not use pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or drugs.  Organic certification is expensive and time consuming. Organic farms tend to be smaller than conventional farms, so fixed costs and overhead must be distributed across smaller produce volumes without government subsidies.

Rinsing produce reduces but does not eliminate pesticides.  Peeling sometimes helps, but valuable nutrients often go down the drain with the skin. The best approach is to eat as wide a variety of fruits and vegetables as you can, wash an d scrub all produce thoroughly, and buy organic whenever possible.

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