Know Your Farmer

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“Organic” Label May Not Tell the Whole Story
By Mary Risley, reprinted with permission from Tante Marie’s Cooking School

Aren’t you getting tired of all the talk about organics? Recently, the media was full of news about a report by Stanford University analyzing 237 studies that said there were not necessarily any more nutrients in organic versus conventionally grown foods.

How silly!  The truth is that it really doesn’t matter! Growing fruits and vegetables organically has to be better for the land and for the environment. If we can afford it, we need to support the small farmers doing their best to bring us fresh, responsibly grown food.

The other day I was in the produce department of my local supermarket, and the produce guy pointed out to me that I could buy regular raspberries for one dollar less than the same amount of organic raspberries—didn’t I want to save a dollar?

To me, it all depends on where and how the raspberries were grown—not on whether they are labeled “organic.” First of all, the standards for organic were lowered in younger Bush’s first administration. Secondly, what is often labeled “organic” may have still traveled a long, long way to get to your market. For instance, in May, “organic” apples could be coming all the way from China.  And, thirdly, there are quite a few very responsible local growers under the certified organic banner whose food is healthful and picked fresh.

Organic isn’t what it used to be. You see, Big Business knows the demand for what is called “organic”  has been growing at a rate of more than 10% a year.  So, Big Growers are getting into the organic market. Maybe the produce is grown without pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and commercial fertilizers, but it still may be mass-produced and over watered.

What can you the consumer do? First, ask where were these raspberries grown? And, how long did they sit in a distribution warehouse? Better yet, buy them from a farmer who actually grew them.

I am fascinated by the perception that some supermarkets are better because they are “organic,” even when they are bringing in produce from distribution warehouses, not farms. I have also noticed that at neighborhood so-called “farmers markets,” it is clear that some vendors bought their cases of fruits or vegetables from a larger produce distributor, not a farm. Best of all is to grow your own fruits and vegetables—then you really don’t have to worry whether it’s “certified” or “organic” or “locally grown.” You know it is!


Mary Risley is the founder of San Francisco’s Tante Marie’s Cooking School and Food Runners, a non-profit that brings food to the needy.


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Our online magazine offers a taste of workplace culture, trends, and healthy living. It features recipes for easy, delicious work meals and tips on quick office workouts. It's also an opportunity to learn about our GoodWorks program, which helps those in need in our communities and supports small, sustainable farms.