Organic produce is produce that has been grown without the chemicals that conventional farmers use. To legally be labled "organic," strict guidelines must be met by large growers. However, smaller farms also grow organic produce but do not have to be certified. If in doubt, ask about their growing practices before you make your purchase.
Finding Organic Produce
Organic produce can be found locally grown in many places. See if you can find any of the following resources where you live. You may be surprised at how many options are actually available to you.
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Simply, a CSA is a local farm that sells shares to individuals to help with the expenses of maintaining the farm. These expenses may include seeds or bedding plants, fertilizers, labor and equipment. Currently, there are over 1,500 CSAs across the United States and Canada.
Share holders are compensated by receiving weekly baskets of fresh, organic produce. Each CSA has a different financial commitment for those wanting to support it and some will allow weekly or monthly payments instead of full payment up front. Some may even offer delivery for an extra fee within a certain radius of the farm.
Be aware that if you join a CSA you have no guarantee of what you will receive each week. This will depend on how well each crop has produced and how many others have joined the CSA. Most people find, however, that they receive far more for their money that they would if they had spent it in a supermarket. Additionally, the feeling they get from supporting the local economy and their community is priceless.
A farmer's market is normally held once or twice a week at a designated location from early spring to late fall. Winter markets are also becoming popular in some places. Make a weekly shopping trip to your local farmer's market to find delicious, local, organic produce and organic meats as well as crafts, flowers, handmade soaps and even entertainment by local bands.
An excellent way to gain appreciation for local farmers is to visit a U-pick farm. These farms are open to the public during harvest time, which is usually summer through fall. Enjoy picking your own organic vegetables and fruits like blueberries, strawberries, pumpkins or apples. Consider preserving some of the harvest so you can enjoy organic produce all year round.
Farm stands are run by a single farm to sell their produce. Sometimes you may see a truckload of watermelon or sweet corn in a parking lot. This is an example of a farm stand. Be sure to ask if they are selling organic produce before you make a purchase.
These are stores or clubs that are owned by the customers or employees. Typically they will carry an abundance of organic produce that is usually locally grown. You can shop without a membership in most cases, but membership may offer additional advantages or special savings.
Where to Find
The best resource for finding any of these places near you is Local Harvest. Local Harvest has a locator tool to help you find the best organic food in your area. Simply type in your city and state or zip code and you will get a list of results to begin browsing.
Don't forget, another great option for organic produce is your own back yard! Grow your own and you'll know exactly what went into the foods that you feed your family.
Why Buy Organic?
There are many benefits of organic foods. Organic farms are better for the environment, using less energy and generate less waste than conventional farms do. In the last few years there has been an incredible increase in the demand for organic produce, even though it tends to be pricier than conventionally grown produce.
Organic foods do not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), a concern for many people. While the government is allowing conventional foods to be made with GMO crops like corn, a study by the International Journal of Biological Sciences found that GMO corn caused organ damage in rats.
As people become more health conscious, this trend is expected to continue for quite some time.
Why Buy Local?
Did you know that most produce that you find in your local grocery store has been picked four to seven days before it ever reaches the shelves? Typically, this produce has to travel 1,500 miles before it gets to you. This costs money, but it may not necessarily be reflected in produce prices. Instead, the farmer that produced this food for you only receives 18 cents of every dollar of produce.
When you buy locally, you are supporting area farmers who typically are working on their small, family-owned farms. Keeping money in the local economy is beneficial to everyone, as is eating fresh picked fruits and vegetables. Not only is this produce often grown using organic methods, but it is picked at the peak of ripeness. You will certainly appreciate that flavor and nutrients are at their peak at the time of harvest also. According to the Environmental Working Group, if you buy produce from local farmers, you should still be sure to ask how the produce was grown because not all farmers use organic methods.
The only possible disadvantage of eating locally grown produce is that certain foods are only available seasonally. However, this doesn't have to be a disadvantage if you learn how to plan your menus around foods that are available. Two excellent resources for learning to eat seasonally are the books Eating With the Seasons by Paula Bartimeus and Seasonal Eating by Gail Duff. Both of these books are available from Amazon.com.