~ By Michael Dwyer
With all our technology and scientific know-how, the most all-around rewarding method of growing our food is proving to be the oldest method. Ten thousand years ago, as agriculture developed, the only method of farming was organic. The term “organic” refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat. Organic farming practices are designed to encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution. Farmers who grow organically use natural (as opposed to chemical) methods to fertilize, control weeds or prevent livestock disease. Organic farmers also use crop rotations and grow a wide variety of plants (called polyculture) to inhibit weeds and crop disease.
Nowhere is the popularity of organics more evident than on the supermarket aisle. At the Fruit Center Marketplace, organic products are a common sight – you’ll find them in nearly every department of the store. When it comes to organic produce, the Fruit Center offers more organic choices than any other market on the South Shore. Steve DiGiusto, the Fruit Center’s General Manager and produce buyer, says that, “When the quality meets our standards we always buy organic.”
Not only are organic food products everywhere you look, but they are gaining more and more enthusiasts at lightning speed. A recent report from the Organic Trade Association says that, despite our challenging economic environment, folks are still craving organic products. Organic food sales for 2010 were up over 7% from the previous year for a total of $26.7 billion in worldwide sales with organic fruits and vegetables leading the way.
“So,” you may ask, “what’s in it for me?” When you step back and consider this rise in organic sales, it only seems fitting that in an economic climate where all around us is seemingly losing value, we’re investing in something priceless – ourselves. But look at the facts — organically-grown produce offers tremendous benefits for our health and our environment:
Organic farming is more environmentally-friendly than conventional farming. Industrial agriculture and conventional farming affect our environment in a number of ways. The synthetic fertilizers and chemical pesticides can pollute the farmland and their runoff can pollute the surrounding water systems. Mono-cropping – the cultivation of only one type of crop, a hallmark of industrial farming – leaves crops exceedingly vulnerable to pests and disease, a problem that is typically combated with chemical pesticides. Not only does this piling-on of synthetic fertilizers and chemical pesticides harm the environment, but it leads to a loss of micronutrients and minerals in fruits and vegetables. By contrast, organic farming uses all-natural methods with a close eye on their impact on the surrounding environment.
Without pesticides, organically-grown plants produce more flavonoids, a compound that helps prevent cancer and heart disease. Shockingly, studies have revealed pesticides in children’s bloodstreams after they had consumed non-organic fruits and vegetables. Shortly after switching to organic varieties of produce, these pesticides disappear in the blood. Also, a 2003 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that organically grown strawberries and corn had higher levels of antioxidants than their conventionally grown counterparts. Because these organically grown crops had to fight off insects themselves, they produced more flavoniods, a compound produced when the plant is stressed and one that contains a great deal of antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that are crucial in fighting against certain diseases and cancers.
Compared to the conventionally grown crops, the organically grown strawberries had 19% more antioxidants and the organically grown corn had over 58% more antioxidants. Since conventionally grown crops are subjected to pesticides, it seems they do not create as much of the pest-fighting flavonoids. Nikki Tierney, Registered Dietitian and co-owner of A Healthy Balance in Quincy, suggests seeking out organic produce when it comes to the “Dirty Dozen,” the twelve produce items most-affected by pesticides. According to Nikki, those items are: celery, lettuce, potatoes, spinach, bell peppers, apples, cherries, imported grapes, peaches, pears, nectarines and strawberries.
produce contains higher levels of minerals and vitamins. According to a study by the Organic Center State of Science Review, feeding the soil with organic matter instead of synthetic fertilizers increases nutrients in produce, with higher levels of vitamins and minerals found in organic food.
Most folks notice that the flavors of organic produce are better. Although taste can be a matter of, well, taste, science seems to bear out this flavor enhancement. A recent study by researchers at Washington State University showed that organic berries were consistently judged as sweeter than conventionally grown berries.
With the benefits of organic food now fresh in your mind, it’s time to put that knowledge to good use. Stop by one of the Fruit Center Marketplace locations in either Milton or Hingham and explore the aisles. Everyday there are top-quality organically grown options in the produce department. If you’re uncertain how to use any item or overwhelmed by your choices, ask one of the staff to make a suggestion. Everyone at the Fruit Center is highly trained and tremendously helpful.
Fruit Center Marketplace
79 Water St./Rt. 3A 781-749-7332
10 Bassett St. 617-696-5274
Our fresh produce recipes are available on our web site at: www.fruitcentermarketplace.com