Sunday, 5 April 2009
The words 'Farmers Market' really give ya the warm fuzzies, don't they? They make you think of all things wholesome and summery, supportive, grass-roots, and local...they conjure visions of straw hats, sandals, fiddles, even....and of course, delicious fruits and vegetables that just ooze good health.
And they are all that! There are some good reasons to visit, shop at, and support your local Farmers Market. It creates a sense of community, you meet really cool, like-minded folks, you support regional growers, you meet the people who make your food first-hand, something you can't say at the grocery store. Then there's the 'local', '100-mile' aspect, which is sound for the environment, for energy, for costs, and is wonderful for freshness.
But just because it's local, and the carrots aren't washed, and you get to shake the farmer's hand, it might not be all the goodness you think it is. Don't get me wrong, it's not that anyone is purposely snowin' ya, it's just that I have come to believe that we all just assume something here.
I remember a couple years ago, shopping with glee amid all the stands, I made a comment to my boyfriend about the veritable smorgasbord of extraordinary produce, and he said, "Well, just because it's here doesn't mean it's organic."
It actually really surprised me! And took me aback quite a lot! Just as I equate Farmers Markets with wholesomeness, I thought local MEANT organic. I'm not alone, as I've found out. As I've pointed out in the past, why would ya wanna add a toxic load to your beautiful body that you're so earnestly keeping healthy, by adding chemicals to your food? (It's just something I'm so impassioned about!) Organic is not trendy...it's the way it was done for thousands of years up until this century.
For me, that it IS organic is a much bigger selling point than it being local. I mean, bananas and pineapples will never be local, but they are a mainstay in many a locavore's diet. (locavore: a person who attempts to eat only foods grown locally.)
I've since started asking pointed questions to the kind farmers before I buy anything. I'm sure there are ways of beating around the bush, but I usually go the direct route and ask, "Are these organic?"
If they're not, I don't buy them. Period. I'm personally about as tempted to eat an apple full of pesticides as I am to spray OFF into my mouth. Actually, the top 50 chemicals applied to apples are listed here. One batch of test performed on apples by the FDA detected 36 chemicals, close to 50% being neuro-toxins.
Scientists determine the highest dose of a pesticide that might be ingested by animals (birds and mammals, including humans) to cause adverse health effects but not death; this is called the maximum tolerated dose (MTD). They also determine the no-observable-effect level (NOEL) and identify the amount of pesticides that may be safely consumed by humans, in terms of milligrams per kilogram of body weight, over a seventy-year lifetime. In calculating an acceptable exposure for a pesticide, scientists usually include a safety factor of one hundred below the NOEL, assuming a lifetime of exposure to the pesticide. source
I would sooner support a farmer in Ecuador that grows organic than one 10 miles down the road that bathes the produce in a chemical soup. I just don't personally feel all that supported by that.
Of the 50 farm vendors at my local farmer's market, only 23 are organic. That's 46% and I bet it's better than 2 years ago, and will improve 2 years from now.
And only certified organic is actually organic. For instance, in an apple orchard that calls itself organic, they might not put pesticides on their plant leaves but may spray them on the ground. But the most important thing about organic farming is the soil. Luckily, there are now more regulations in place that ensure nothing's getting labeled organic unless it's certified.
Certification involves a few steps and some money. After applying for certification, a farm has to go through a period of time called a transitional period. First, it must be determined that a farm is not working on land that has had any chemicals on it recently. And if it has, which kind. The transitional period can take anywhere from 1 to 3 years, depending on what the land has been used for in the past.
So, back to the Farmer's Market. How do you know if farmers in your area are using organic methods?
Well the ones who are, usually proudly display a sign saying so. If you're not sure, ask before you purchase. If they are organic, most are only too happy to talk about this. If it's a 'no', I just smile and say, "Oh, thanks, but... *shrug*..." and trail off.
I'm not out to get anyone defensive, I just want to shop by my own standards, is all.
If there's a lull in the busy crowd, I ask them if they have any plans to transition to organic, and if they do, I tell them I look forward to doing business with them down the road. If it's as busy at your farmer's markets as it is at mine, they don't have time for too much chatting, but if you have questions, you can always ask them for a card, and email them your concerns, your musings, or your bulk order, depending.
There are other ways of finding out. The internet, of course, is an excellent way of having information at your fingertips. There are chapters of local growers and Farmers' Markets, and of course, links from the organic certifiers themselves.
Here are listings for Canada, U.S. Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and Africa.
There really is so much local and worldwide goodness goin' on! Put your straw hat on, bring your cloth bags and go fill up on delicious, orgasmic produce, (as I call organic... I'm surprised it took me this long to say that) and create a gorgeous, raw meal!
Here's to your awareness and health, Rawkers!