For the Conservation Curious

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The Joys (and Squeamish Moments) of Organics September 30, 2010

Organic food is really taking off.  Of the 3 groceries stores I frequent, 2 out of 3 have a pretty good selection of organic produce, not to mention organic processed foods.  Sometimes the sticker shock of organic foods has the penny pincher in me steering towards the traditionally grown foods, but price differences seem to be narrowing as demand grows.  Let’s hope that trend continues!

For those of you not intimately acquainted with organics and wondering what all the fuss is about, here is a quick primer:  Organics are those veggies, fruits, meats and other foods grown without the use of synthetic herbicides, fertilizers and hormones.  Instead of bombarding insect pests with potentially toxic and environmentally-harmful chemicals, organic farmers use a variety of tactics like predator insects, natural herbicides and hand weeding to keep their produce healthy.  When organic foods reach your store they are safer to eat and have had less of a negative impact on the nature world (usually, and I’ll get to that in a minute).

Not everything that I eat is organic… again, it’s a thrift thing… but I made a giant leap forward this year when I joined a CSA – Community Supported Agriculture.  CSAs are popping up all over the country as people learn the benefits of eating local.  Eating local cuts down on the fossil fuel emissions created by trucking produce from California to Maine and it helps grow local economies.  The CSA I joined also happens to be an organic farm – a double whammy of goodness for the environment!  Every week I drive roughly 2 miles to the drop-off point where I pick up a box full of produce.  You never know what you’re going to get until you open up the box. Could it be a watermelon? Heirloom tomatoes? Yummy orange peppers (yes, that is the real name of them!)? You name it, at some point they send it!  I get to experience vegetables that the local chain grocery stores would never stock, so I expand my palate and get to try cool new recipes.

Once a month they open up their farm to all the CSA members.  You can go pick herbs and flowers, stock up on leftover produce and eat at their organic restaurant (the mint green tea is a must!).  For a city dweller like me, these trips are like a little vacation.  Joining a CSA is like putting your money in a bank with a high interest rate and seeing the balance increase at a rapid rate – my yearly fee is helping keep this farm in business. How neat is that?

But I digress.  This local, organic produce is usually so tasty (I’ve never liked a tomato so much until having their heirloom grape tomatoes!) but occasionally I am given a squeamish moment… Given that no toxic herbicides are used, there are rare moments when little critters hitch a ride in my produce bag.  Oh, there’s a daddy long-legger! Hello, you little caterpillar in my lettuce! Those incidents are few and far between and are easily fixed by shaking the bag out in my backyard. You’re free, little ones! This week, however, was a test of my patience with insects.  The farm had sent a warning: “Our lettuce has been over-run with aphids and there is no organic means of controlling them. We are deciding whether or not to distribute future batches of the lettuce, but for this week, please be understanding. Here’s how you can deal with them…” 

I was not around to pick up my box of produce, so my significant other did so, leaving the bag on the counter as is usual.  I forgot to mention the aphids to him so when I returned later that night they were crawling all over the bag, and probably on my kitchen counter too.  Aphids are tiny insects and cause no harm to people, but still, who wants insects crawling (and some, flying) all over their kitchen? Not me! I grabbed that huge head of lettuce (seriously, this farm sends me the biggest lettuces I have ever seen!), stuck it in a big pot of soapy water, and drowned those little guys.  Did I feel a twinge of guilt? Honestly, yes. I’m the kind of person who looks where she’s walking so she doesn’t intentionally step on ants.  But what else was I to do? That’s what the farm recommended.  The aphids in the bag? Well, they went in my outdoor trash can.  Perhaps they’ll find some nice rotting veggies to munch on at the landfill, perpetuating their circle of life?

The moral of my story? I love eating organic and will continue to do so, but now I’m a little more aware of my surroundings. I know not to just reach my hand in the produce bag without taking a careful look at what’s in there.  We can’t be perfect all the time – I’m going to drown an occasional aphid (and squish those centipedes that continue to plague my house) but on the whole my actions are helping to protect the insects, animals and plants of the world, not to mention keeping our waterways cleaner.  If you can eat organic, do so, but even more important is to eat locally.  I mentioned earlier that organic foods are great, but if they’re trucked all the way across the country to get to your plate, the negatives might outweigh the benefits.  If you can find a local organic farm, shop there! The next best thing is any local farm stand, followed by a local grocery store that stocks some local produce.  The fewer miles your food has to travel, the better. 

Bon appetit!

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