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Organic Food - What Are Our Options?

7 options plus a way to find a direct source

For me, the ideal situation is to raise as much of my own food as I can.  But even for those of us who can, it is not always practical or possible to raise everything you need. The good news is there are still other options and an easy way to find where they are available.

In order for us to do everything possible to help ourselves, I think we have to realize that we are living in a world that is poisoning itself. From history we see that the deterioration of the soil that feeds us has been going on since man has been on earth.

Chemical agriculture (starting in the 1830s) offered a quicker way to utterly destroy the soil. (One great benefit of choosing food raised in a method friendly to the earth — is for its contribution to the long-term health of soil and thus the ability of that soil to continue to produce healthy food.)

If you have been reading and keeping up with even a little of what is going on, you know that giant agribusiness and the unhealthy, unclean products that it breeds has brought the government into almost every aspect of the food chain. Unfortunately, the little farm (which is our best option in so many cases) is the one to be hurt the most by government regulations.  Although many want to close their eyes to it, government regulating could end up hurting the small home grower as well.  Very scary.

All these regulations effect our options, but fortunately we still have some. I’ve listed here the 7 options I know about and a brief description of each. At the end I’ll tell you a way to find a direct source so that you can better exercise your options.

#1 Certified Organic

Far from perfect, the USDA Certified Organic label seems to be the easiest way for the grocery store shopper to be reasonably (the keyword here is reasonably) sure that food has not been grown with harmful chemicals, pesticides or genetically modified seed. According to the regulations, if there are non-organic ingredients present — in packaged foods for example — the larger percentage of the food’s total plant and animal ingredients must be organic.

Supermarket produce is pooled from so many sources that it is easy to conclude that the organic label does not always mean superior quality. Nor is it a guarantee of food safety.

As “organic” becomes bigger business, I feel confident there will be a lot more problems.  When any crop is grown on a larger scale, problems increase at about the same proportion. Human nature, of course, will always be on hand and there will always be someone — although perhaps in the minority — looking for a loophole around the rules and regulations. There have already been instances where organic regulations have been ignored and food was not what it was suppose to be.

In spite of all its shortcomings, my findings indicate it is still the most trustworthy label available to consumers.

It is ideal to find and purchase food from a farm that is Certified Organic. When you are dealing directly with the grower you can ask questions and have a much better chance of knowing how your food is grown and handled. Try to know your grower whenever possible.

#2 Growers using Integrated Pest Management

Integrated Pest Management is a multifaceted approach.  The practices focus on prevention of pests and their damage with biological control (natural enemies), habitat manipulation, use of resistant varieties, timing of planting, cultivation, non-toxic controls and judicious use of pesticides when they are used. (Some IPM practitioners do not use pesticides, some do.)

Speaking out on the Rodale Insitute.org site, an Integrated Pest Management grower proudly pointed out that in random tests by the State Dept of Food Safety,  the tests for his crops (nectarines and apples) came back with NO pesticide detected.

Again, the ideal is to know your grower.

#3 Naturally Grown and Certified Naturally Grown

Pursuing an organic certification can become complicated and time consuming. Many small growers especially, choose not to pursue the certification, but still follow all organic principles in growing their produce. I was one of those.

I grew produce for market for many years.  After the Organic Certification program came into play in the 1990s, my produce could not be labeled as organic in the store although it was raised following all organic principles.  I felt that I was just too small to warrant pursuing certification.

Thus, in today’s scenario I would be considered Naturally Grown.

I have read that there is a grassroots’ certification program, Certified Naturally Grown, specifically for farmers that sell locally.  It’s my understanding that the certification is based on the National Organic Program with some variation.

I think Naturally Grown growers could be and might be one of the best sources of good food for the masses.  It would be my bet that they are scattered amongst the landscape all over the country.

IMPORTANT: I would caution in most cases however to be careful of the word “natural”.  Big business plasters that word on just about everything in order to sell more product. There is no criteria for its use.  It means absolutely nothing.

#4 Transitional

Transitional would mark growers on land that is still breaking down the residues of chemicals and pesticides used on it in past years. They are in the process of becoming organic or earth-friendly.

I know many home gardeners who are in this process, not for certification, but for their own well-being.  They purchased land that was once deluged with chemicals and pesticides, but they want to farm/garden in a manner that is beneficial to the earth and themselves.  So they begin the earth-friendly processes.

Even just beginning— they probably will be able to obtain a better quality product that what they can purchase at the grocery store that is conventionally raised (with chemicals and pesticides).  Although I feel this statement will be true in most cases, there are always exceptions. In cases where the land has been severely abused it may take years before you would want to eat crops raised on it.  In order to know for sure —you have to know what has been done before.

#5 Conventional (farming with the use of chemicals and pesticides)

I want to stay as far away as I can from food raised by large scale chemical agriculture.  I realize that small scale conventional farming can be — but does not have to be — as destructive as large scale.  You would have to know your grower well to be able to determine how the crops have been raised.

I would choose another option whenever possible.

#6 Biodynamics

The core of biodynamics farming is to partner with the earth’s forces for healthier soil and food. It includes planting and cultivating with the movements of the moon and stars.  It has much in common with organic gardening, but is a beyond-organic approach.

Certainly an excellent option.

#7 Grass Fed/Pastured

Thankfully, we hear more and more about grass fed/pastured animals.  These animals are raised on pasture rather than being confined for their lives in a holding pen to be fed mostly grain.   Being raised on pasture is much more healthy for us – the consumer.  It produces the most nutritious meat, dairy and eggs that is lower in fat and much better for our bodies.

The best grass-fed animals never see a feedlot.  The best growers will not sell animals that have been treated by any chemical of any kind.

Know as much as you can about your grower. Ask questions.  If you are buying long-distance, read everything about the growers and their reputation.

If you want to see an example website from one of the best organic grass-fed beef producers check out http://www.alderspring.com/. Explore their website to learn more about how the best organic grass fed beef is produced.

How to find a direct source for your food.

http://www.localharvest.org/ is an invaluable website and I would highly recommend your becoming familiar with it.

You can find direct farm sources by clicking on the tab “farms”. Enter your zip and state and the list of farms within your state (or close by) will come up.  You can fine tune your search by product — such as eggs, beef, sweet potatoes, apples  – or whatever you are looking for.

You can search for Online Stores, Farmers’ Markets, Restaurants, co-ops and lots more.

When you click on an individual farm you will see an overview of their operation, contact information, directions to their place, where their products are available and very importantly — their farming practices (organic, naturally grown, grass fed etc.)

Again — just because a place is listed on LocalHarvest.org does not mean they do things right —- it just means they’re out there. The best advice?  Ask questions.  Know your grower.

Go Ahead and Do It!

If you haven’t already done so and are new to all this information, go ahead and take the first step and embark on this exciting journey of getting involved with your food.  Bookmark this article and become familiar with all your options. Know your grower whenever possible. Your body and your family will thank you.

Let me know how you do!  Best of luck!

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