Why Buy Organic?

The word "organic" has been floating around a lot recently. It's slapped on food packaging and more grocery stores carry organic produce. But what does "buying organic" truly mean?

The Organic Advantage

Organic agriculture promotes sustainability, soil fertility and biological diversity without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. They do not use any genetically-modified seeds, and use practices like composting, crop rotation or companion planting. For livestock, this means that they are raised with natural living conditions and feed. 

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It can be a bit of a hassle for farms to earn the organic distinction. When a farm complies to USDA organic regulations, it becomes certified. There is a rigorous process with the USDA to get the certification including applications, inspections and fees. When you're at the local farmers' market, talk to the vendor to see if they are organic or conventional--meaning they use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Many small farmers practice organically, but do not have a certified farm because it is cost prohibitive.

Why Buy Organic?

1. Avoid chemicals, hormones and other synthetic compounds--The chemicals used on produce, and the hormones and antibiotics used on animals are ingested when we eat these things. Many of the chemicals used have not been tested for long-term health effects.

2. Avoid GMO--There's a lot of talk about genetically modified foods. In laboratories, seeds are tinkered with to become brighter in color, resistant to pests, or able to withstand inclement weather. The modified food as genes modified from other plants, animals or viruses to allow it to have new characteristics. 

3. Better taste--Organic fruits, vegetables and meats taste unique. They are grown or raised in prime conditions and allowed to thrive. 

4. Preserves the ecosystem--Organic practices preach sustainability and working in harmony with nature. These practices keep farmland healthy, which helps support local environments.

5. Reduce pollution--Similar to the above, without the use of chemicals, fertilizers and other compounds, our environment becomes a less toxic place. 

6. Preserve agriculture diversity--If you walk into a grocery store, you may only find a handful of different potatoes, or tomatoes that all look the same. But, there used to be a time when thousands of a varieties were available. When farmers grow a variety of crops, they preserve these forgotten varieties (and it helps boost the soil because the crops are rotated).

If you don't have access to organic farmers or a wide selection of organic plants at your local grocer, don't fret. The Environmental Working Group commissions the list of the Dirty Dozen--a dozen different fruits and veggies that rank with the highest levels of pesticides. When possible, buy these organic.

In Defense of Processed Foods

Whole foods are best, but sometimes you don't have time to make your own cereals, graham crackers, candies, soups and other goodies. (No judgement) Packaged foods offer convenience, and like organic produce and meats, there are advantages to buying organic packaged foods.

When you buy organic packaged foods, you ensure your food is free of GMOs, pesticides and anything artificial--flavorings, colors and preservatives. The foods are free of MSG or high fructose corn syrup. And should the food contain dairy, the cows will not have been treated with antibiotics or artificial growth hormones. An added bonus to buying organic packaged foods is that many of these companies are environmentally conscious, they are dedicated to reducing their environmental footprint.