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Published on December 17th, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans

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Organic Produce: The Very Best of Seasonal, Sustainable Agriculture

In today’s modern world, if we want to maintain good health, slow signs of aging, and decreased our risk for chronic diseases, research points us in the direction of dietary health. 

General guidelines for a healthy diet include 7-10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.  Fruit and vegetable phytochemicals—naturally occurring compounds necessary for sustaining life—are identified by scientists as key elements in disease prevention.  A variety of different phytochemicals provides your best defense, so the larger the variety of colors and textures in your produce selection, the better.  Recent research also reveals that organically grown produce is far ahead of its non-organic counterparts in terms of nutritional quality.

Organic farming methods concentrate on naturally cultivating the essential nutrients in soil.  Produce cultivated in organic soil contains higher vitamin content than produce grown in a non-organic soil base, because organic soil contains more living organisms and trace minerals imparted through the use of cover crops, diverse crop rotation, and added organic compost.

Harvesting produce before it ripens considerably diminishes the food’s flavor and mineral content,and the act of transporting of it hundreds of miles in refrigerated trucks negatively impacts the planet by depleting limited energy resources and increasing greenhouse gases.

Pesticides and Nutritional Value

Organic fruits and vegetables are filled with more of what you do want, and free of many harmful substances that you don’tOrganic Produce want—eating organically reduces the degree of pesticide exposure associated with conventionally grown foods.  Some fruits and vegetables contain higher levels of pesticide residues than others, often because their outer layer is especially permeable.  You should avoid purchasing the following "vulnerable," non-organic produce items:

  • Apples
  • Cantaloupe
  • Grapes
  • Green Beans
  • Pears
  • Raspberries
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes

Other produce items do not contain high levels of pesticides and are therefore less harmful when not grown organically.  The following items are considered to be okay for non-organic purchases:

  • Asparagus
  • Avocados
  • Mangoes
  • Onions
  • Pineapples

Keep in mind though, that while these conventional items may be less chemically harmful, they are not necessarily the best for you—their nutritional value has most likely been compromised by the long journey that they have made from the farm to table.

Most conventional fruits and vegetables available in supermarkets have been transported across great distances from where they were grown.  The only way for farmers to ensure that their produce will be presentable when it reaches its destination is to pick it before it reaches maturity.  Harvesting produce before it ripens considerably diminishes the food’s flavor and mineral content, and the act of transporting it hundreds of miles in refrigerated trucks negatively impacts the planet by depleting limited energy resources and increasing greenhouse gases.

Abundant Benefits

Organic produce is never genetically engineered or modified, or irradiated to make its shelf-life longer.  Organic produce is also more likely to have been grown locally, and to be a fresher, tastier product.  In general, organic farms are smaller than conventional farms and organic farmers tend to sell their produce to local purveyors, or sell it themselves at a farmers’ market.

Organic farms:

  • Are operated with concern for both the consumer’s health and sustainability of the land on which food is grown. 
  • Reduce the risk of pesticide and chemical run-off in watersheds and drinking water–serious environmental hazards brought on by the intensive agricultural methods of conventional farmers.
  • Use cover crops in farming to provide essential nutrients to the soil and attract beneficial insects as a natural form of pest control.
  • Foster the cultivation of a harmonious ecosystem by encouraging biodiversity, an abundance of species living in balance with each other.

Farmers MarketWhen making the transition to organic fruits and vegetables, you may want to alter a few of your shopping habits.  The higher cost of organic produce in grocery stores can be minimized by visiting your local farmers’ market—prices for in-season produce at farmers’ markets can be even lower than what you pay for non-organic produce at the regular market.  An additional benefit of buying your produce directly from farmers is that you are supporting fair-trade practice.  A farmer who sells his or her product directly to a consumer receives a fairer price for goods than he or she would from a supermarket.

Other Options for Obtaining an Organic Ideal

You can also plant your own garden if you have adequate space, or share in a community garden plot.  If you live in the U.S., search the American Community Gardening Association to find a community garden near you. 

Another option is to buy a share in a CSA (community shared agriculture) farm near you.  CSA farms operate as partnerships between farmers and members of the community who buy shares in a farm’s harvest each growing season.  This is how it works:

  • Each share contributes a fee to cover the farm’s yearly operating costs and, in turn, purchases a share of the yearly harvest.
  • The result of each share is a weekly supply of organic produce delivered to you at the peak of ripeness.

By allowing what you eat to be determined by what is grown locally, and by eating in tune with the seasons, you will findApple yourself more aware of the seasons themselves.  You’ll experience the anticipation of eating peaches in summer and rutabagas in winter and you’ll be provided with opportunities to connect on a local level with the farmers who grow your food.  Visit Local Harvest to find a local CSA farm in the U.S.

The health benefits of eating organic fruits and vegetables are balanced by the advantages that it affords the environment.  The more leafy greens and apples and tomatoes that you consume, the better it is for your health and longevity.  And the more sustainable, fair trade produce that you buy, the more you help to support communities and their land to thrive so that future generations can enjoy a healthy, earth-gifted vitality and a relationship with Mother Nature that our generation is privileged to know.

Article Contributors: Julie Reid





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