Organic vs. Local Produce

I was thrilled, a few weeks back, to find organic grapes back on the shelf.  Most produce suppliers don’t stock organic grapes year-round because the price is too high.  Finally, the price has dropped and for a little while now we will have organic grapes.  I don’t even bother buying non-organic grapes since the pesticide usage on grapes is among the highest of all produce.  So I was pleased to pick up a package, priced at $3.29/lb and give my family a sweet treat.  Then I saw the label: Product of Mexico.  My elation sank back to realism and I soberly added it to my basket. 
I buy organic food, quite frankly, so I don’t expose my family to toxic pesticides that are sprayed on non-organic produce.  (Yeah, yeah, I know, certified organic doesn’t mean pesticide-free… but that’s for another post.)  There are studies that claim organic food has better flavour and higher nutritional value than non-organic food.  I also buy it because it is more environmentally friendly.   The soil isn’t fed a chemical cocktail to improve growth rates.  But organic produce may travel thousands of miles to reach me, and it is the carbon footprint from these miles that disturbs me.  Naturally, I would buy organic, local produce over anything else, but local food is often not organic.  I don’t live in a gardener’s paradise where you can grow anything, all year round.  I live in a climate where, if you are lucky, you can grow a variety of (non-tropical) produce during a few months of they year.  Rain can ruin a garden season in a matter of days, here.  So local farmers don’t always choose the organic route.  They choose the most successful route.

Produce that is fresh from the farm, that hasn’t sat in a shipping container for days (or weeks) before it is placed on the shelf, often has a higher nutrient value.  It looks, feels, smells and tastes better.  But has it been sprayed with chemicals to protect it from pests?  We don’t know.  Probably.
Buying local produce supports our local economy.  Buying from a local farmer will mean his money will go back into our local economy, and will contribute to our taxes, bringing us education, medical coverage, and parks and recreational benefits.  I love to buy local.  But I don’t love to buy anything that may harm my family.
It’s a tricky question and one that I think can only be answered by personal choice.  We can contact local farmers and see if they are using pesticides.  We can grow our own organic produce.  We can trust our Canadian government who allows (or refuses) the use of certain pesticides on our crops.  Or we can buy strictly organic, regardless of where the produce comes from.  Me?  I am leaning towards organic for health’s sake.  Give me local AND organic and I will buy it in a flash.   What I can’t grow I will have to make a decision on whether or not it will be an acceptable item to feed to my family.    And in the mean time, I think I will buy the organic grapes and hope my own garden will offset some of the fuel burned getting organic grapes to the local grocery shelves.  You can’t win them all but you can certainly do what you think is best for your family.

Garden Experimenting: Mulching With Hay

I have a problem garden.  Weeds.  For years now I have been battling several different kinds of weeds in my vegetable garden.  They grow as tall as me if I let them (and I have) and they have little berries and flowers on them if they are left to go to seed (which I also have).  I am a busy mother of three lively young children.  Every year I plant a garden I vow I will keep up with the weeds.  But somehow the weeds keep up to me (quite literally at times) and I lose control of them.  By mid-August I usually give up entirely on them and worry about collecting the produce instead.  This year, our first spring with goats, I noticed that we had a large amount of hay left over.  Goats are notoriously wasteful with hay, and so I had a large amount to get rid of.  I thought about composting it, but also wondered if I could use it as mulch on my garden.
I began to research hay as mulch.  Some people say to stay away from hay and use straw instead because of the seeds that can be accidentally planted in hay, but I came across an actual way of gardening using hay as a permanent mulch.  You keep the hay down all year round, and only make little holes where you want to plant.  This sounded do-able and since I have an abundance of hay, thanks to my goats, I am giving it a try this year. 
Muscle-In-The-Arm (AKA my husband) did a fantastic job of rototilling.  Because it was so late in the season (June!  Eep!) I was right behind him planting seeds as he tilled.  The peas are poking out today, and so I dug into my hay.  The goat hay was already rotting and smelled like, well, rotten goat hay, so I used fresh bales instead.  I’ll let the rotted stuff decompose in my compost and put that on the garden another time.  I layered the hay on thick and loose, on my paths, around my tomato plants, on areas where the squash and cucumbers will spread, and around the up-coming peas.  As soon as the other seedlings come up I will put hay around them.  And then I will put my greenhouse seedlings neatly into little holes inside the hay. 
Some good reasons to mulch:
  • Mulching means less weeding.  That speaks for itself.
  • Mulch will keep soil cooler preventing plants from going to seed too soon.
  • Mulch will keep soil wetter so hot summer days won’t wilt the plants, and less watering will be required.
  • Mulch might protect against tomato blight which is prevalent in my rainy, coastal climate, by preventing rain from splashing mud on the tomatoes.
  • Mulching is a great way of adding compost to the garden.  It decomposes nicely, providing food for the soil.
I planted my potatoes on a bed of hay, and then under a thick layer of hay.  I cut the potatoes up into small pieces with an eye in each piece, planted them close together, and have left them to do their business.  Supposedly they will come up through the hay, and I will add more hay while they grow.  You harvest once the flowers are done, or (and this is the great part of growing potatoes in hay) you can lift up some hay and have a peak, and carefully remove baby potatoes for supper without disturbing the mother plant!  When you harvest your potatoes you don’t even have to wash them, they are so clean from the hay. 
The only worry I have is that hay is full of seeds, and I could end up with a hayfield instead of a garden.  Apparently, though, if you keep the hay thick, and add more as it decomposes, it will prevent weed growth.  This is my goal. 
To be honest, a hay-covered garden isn’t as beautiful as black, weeded dirt.  But it’s a whole lot more beautiful than a garden filled with weeds, and with all that’s going on this summer at our free range family farm, that’s about what black dirt would end up as.  I have great expectations!  I’ll let you know how it turns out. 

Can You Peel Off The Pesticides?

I have been buying organic food for several years now, but only until recently I still believed that you could, for the most part anyway, “peel off” the pesticides.  I often bought grapefruit, oranges, and avocados that weren’t organic because I figured that since you peeled them you were removing most of the pesticides.  That’s what I used to think.  Only recently have I discovered (at least more of) the truth.

Without getting too scientific, there are two types of pesticides used on fruit and vegetables.  Surface pesticides, which remain on the surface of the product and can possibly be peeled or washed off, and systemic pesticides.  Systemic pesticides are absorbed by the plant when applied to the seeds, soil or leaves.  These are in the plant’s tissues, not on the exterior and cannot be washed off.  Mother Earth News has a great article which does a good job of explaining the four most commonly used systemic pesticides.  In fact it was this article that explained to me that you can’t always peel off the pesticides.
Imidacloprid can be applied to many vegetables (including tomatoes and leafy greens) right up to the day they’re harvested.
Thiamethoxam was first approved as a seed treatment for corn in 2002, and thiamethoxam products that are applied to the soil have since been approved for use on most vegetable and fruit crops. See a photo of seed corn treated with this chemical.
Clothianidin is used as a seed treatment on canola, cereals, corn and sugar beets, and as a soil treatment for potatoes.
Dinotefuran can be applied to soil or sprayed on leafy greens, potatoes and cucumber family crops.
Horrifyingly, pesticide degradients such as DDT, which have been banned in North America since 1972, are still found in 99% of humans.  How?  DDT takes many years to disappear from the soil that we grow produce in.  DDT is not yet banned from certain countries where some of our food may come from.  It also can be stored in fatty food sources such as fish, meat and dairy.
The pesticides used now have not yet been proven to harm humans, but we know well that they kill insects that eat the plants laced with these chemicals, including honeybees who unwittingly eat the pollen and nectar.  And with the many examples of chemicals used without proper prior testing (ie. DDT), I am, quite frankly, scared.
Children are more vulnerable to pesticides.  “Pound for pound, they drink 2.5 times more water and eat 3-4 times more food.”    Therefore, more chemicals are entering their bodies, and at such a vulnerable time when their bodies are still developing, we could be placing our children at a greater risk of developmental delays and autism spectrum disorder.   Babies born to women who are exposed to high levels of pesticides are at a much higher risk of miscarriage, premature delivery, lower birth weight, health problems and learning disabilities.
Thankfully, studies have shown that by switching to organic food we can dramatically reduce the amount of pesticides in our bodies within days.
After learning this I am ready to vow never again to eat or serve my family non-organic food.  In reality, its almost impossible to not eat ANY non-organic food since we don’t eat entirely in our own home, and we still like to eat products that may not be available in the organic section.  Check out the Dirty Dozen list that tells us which fruit and vegetables have the highest pesticide use.  Picking and choosing may be the best option for most people.

In any case, I am glad to have learned this little tidbit of information and wish this was something we could have learned in home-ec in high school.  Oranges just don’t come with pesticide labels and unless we go and seek out the information ourselves we won’t necessarily learn it.  It may be proven some day that these pesticides are directly related to cancer and hormone-disrupting diseases.  Or it may not.  I, however, am not going to take the chance.  I have stepped up my buy-organic level and encourage others to do so too.  I’d rather pay extra for clean, pure food than take a chance with the health of my family.

For more information on pesticides and how we can live without them click here.


Green Father’s Day Gift Ideas

1.  Wallets are a pretty standard, safe gifts for dads.  Bet he hasn’t got a wallet made in the USA from recycled innertubes!  Eco-Handbags is a Canadian online store offering eco-friendly, designer handbags and more.  This best-selling bi-fold wallet comes with 4 card pockets, a bill holder and funky, circular cut-outs.  This is a classic but eco-friendly gift for Dad.
2.  Gift Certificates that provide services rather than products are sure to be a hit.  Find a restaurant serving local food using Organic Highways.  How about a gift certificate for a massage at a spa that uses natural products?  A gift certificate for a game of golf?  These kind of gift certificates are low on packaging, support your local economy, and can be used up.
3.  Save a Tree Printing offers photobooks printed on recycled paper!  Gather up your favorite photos and create a unique, meaningful gift for Dad.  These books are printed in the USA.  A great eco-friendly choice!
4.  We already know that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.  Dad will love a homemade jar of cookies!  Use organic ingredients and you’ve got a healthier version of the perfect gift.  Ok so they aren’t exactly healthy, but they are delicious and preservative-free!  This gift is economical too. Tell me, WHAT MAN doesn’t like cookies?
5.  Have you got little ones who would love to help make a Father’s Day gift for Daddy?  How about a Pad For Dad?  This one can be made out of recycled paper and you’ll find some neat things to glue on the front in your own back yard or nearby forest!  The kids will love to help find the sticks and cut out the letters.  For more great kid-friendly Father’s Day gift ideas click here.
6.  A Wild Seafood Feast!  Hit up your local seafood store that carries wild, Ocean Wise seafood products such as sockeye salmon, albacore tuna, spot prawns, halibut and more!  Check out Wild Seafood Recipes for a great seafood recipe website.  Wild fish is heart-healthy, low in fat and sure to be a Father’s Day favorite. 
Happy Father’s Day!