Before I became a Special Education teacher my background was in PR. I worked as a fundraiser and event planner for two non-profits; and then after a move, I worked for a short period as a local marketing coordinator for an organic food chain. Most of my time was spent answering questions and informing local consumers of the benefits of buying organic. There is a ton of information on organics out there; here, I hope to give you a brief overview and also show you how I incorporate organic products into my life.
What Does “Organic” Mean?
Lots of products these days tout the claim of “organic” but what does that mean? The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has three levels in the determining and labeling products “Organic”.
"100% Organic": Products can only contain organic ingredients. No antibiotics, hormones, genetic engineering, radiation or synthetic pesticides or fertilizers can be used.
"Organic": Products contains 95% organic ingredients, with the balance coming from ingredients on the approved National List.
"Made with Organic Ingredients": Products must be made with at least 70% organic ingredients, three of which must be listed on the package, and the balance must be on the National List. (http://www.ams.usda.gov/; http://www.thedailygreen.com/)
Products labeled "100% Organic" or “Organic" may carry the USDA organic logo; products labeled "Made with Organic Ingredients" may not.
If you are unsure what a label means, Consumer Reports has a green website that offers a label search. You can plug in any label, product, or certifier to make sure what you are buying really stands up to their claim.
Why Buy Organic?
Most people know that buying organic products can help you reduce your exposure to chemicals and hormones but buying organic helps the environment as well. Georgia Organics lists the following top 10 reasons to buy organics. (Visit the GO site for a more detailed explanation, http://www.georgiaorganics.org/)
Top 10 Reasons to Buy Organic and Sustainably-Produced Products
1. Protect future generations
2. Prevent soil erosion
3. Protect water quality
4. Save energy
5. Keep chemicals off your plate
6. Protect farm worker health
7. Help small farmers
8. Support a true economy
9. Promote biodiversity
10. Taste better flavor
Besides the benefits to your body and the planet, organic food just tastes better. Milk is richer, meat is more flavorful and since fruits and vegetables are grown and available in the season they were intended, you typically branch out to try more varieties. According to Ed Bagley, flavor results from a mixture of many different and complex molecules. Healthy, living soil provides a constant and more complex mixture of these molecules, which results in more flavor. (http://www.livingwithed.net/)
What to Buy:
If I could afford to buy only organic products, I would. I truly see the benefits all the way around in an organic diet. Since I can’t do this, I try to incorporate the most beneficial products into my family’s diet, mostly for my daughter.
From everything I have read for buying organics on a budget, the general gist is this, invest in meat and dairy first and then thin skinned produce. Most conventional meat and dairy products often contain hormones and show the highest concentration of pesticides. If buying completely organic meat is still too expensive, try buying antibiotic- or hormone-free meat. Milk is the number one priority at our house. We go through about two to three gallons of milk a week and we always buy organic. When buying produce, if the skin is thin and /or you eat the skin, buy organic. Thin skinned fruits and vegetables absorb the most pesticides and other chemicals. You can move produce such as a watermelon with a think rind to the end of your priority list.
Where Can I Buy Organic?
Almost all grocery retailers carry organic foods now. Whole Foods, Earth Fare and Trader Joes are all known for their organic products and commitment to only carry products that do not undergo certain processes or contain certain ingredients. So if you want to keep it easy, and not have to read labels, these are a good standby. You can find a list of each stores “no, nos” on their websites. (http://www.wholefoods.com/, http://www.earthfare.com/, http://www.traderjoes.com/)
However, not all areas where you live may have these options. More and more, stores such as Kroger, Publix, Ingles and Food Lion (just to name a few) are starting to carry organic products. If your store does not, ask the general manager or produce manger if they can. Enough requests will usually do the trick; at least it’s worth a try.
If are you still unable to find organic products in your area, search for local farmers markets or co-ops. Small scale farmers markets are popping up everywhere. These markets are usually once a week and are held in a central community location (town square, community center, etc.) Co-ops are a membership program where you can join for a certain dollar amount for each delivery cycle. Co-ops work with local farmers to bring produce and meats directly from the farm to you. (You can search both of these options online, here are two co-ops I am familiar with, there are MANY others:http://www.carolinagrown.org/ and http://www.athens.locallygrown.net/)
As you can see, I could go on for days about organics. I hope I have a least given you a starting point and provided additional resources to answer any further questions you may have. You don’t have to go “all organic” to help yourself and the environment; small changes can make a big impact. Buzz!!