Choosing to buy organic foods is not always an easy decision. Labels can be confusing, and with the limited choices and availability of the foods, consumers are often unsure if the extra expense is worth it. Organic foods are now more readily available tin supermarkets but consumers don't always know what distinguishes them from other foods.
What does "organic" mean when we refer to our food? According to a Mayo Clinic report, "organic" farming refers to the way farmers grow agricultural products such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat. Under organic production, the use of pesticides, insecticides and herbicides are greatly reduced and used only as a last resort. Non-organic farming is called "conventional" farming and the bulk of our food is produced in the conventional way. That means that there is heavy use of chemicals in plants and animals to control insects and to promote growth.
Why should we care if our food is grown with organic methods? Organic farming is designed to encourage water and soil conservation and limit pollution. Organic farmers will not use sprays to control weeds but may spread manure or use crop rotation instead. They may use natural fertilizers such as compost and manure to feed plants instead of using chemical fertilizers. They may use birds and beneficial insects to control damaging insects instead of spraying crops heavily with insecticides. And they may feed animals natural foods and allow them to roam outdoors instead of using antibiotics to prevent disease and spur growth in close captivity.
How do chemicals in our foods affect our health? According to an Organic Trade Association report, before a mother first nurses her newborn, the toxic risk from chemicals has already started. Studies show that infants are exposed to many harmful chemicals in utero. Numerous studies show that pesticides can adversely affect the nervous system, increase the risk of cancer, and decrease fertility. It might be worth considering that anything that kills bugs can't be good for human consumption.
When choosing between organically grown products and conventionally grown products it is hard to tell the difference. Usually, the distinction is the price. Organic food always cost more. This is because of the laborious and time intensive systems used by smaller organic farms. For example, organic growers may hand weed vegetables to control weeds, and that adds to the cost of those vegetables.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has established an organic certification program that requires all organic foods to meet strict government standards. Foods should say USDA on the packaging, and, although the seal is voluntary, most organic producers use it. This label means that at least 95% of the food's ingredients are organically produced.
There are other labels on food that can be confusing, such as "all natural," "free range," or "hormone free." These labels do not indicate that the product is organic. Only foods grown under government standards of organic farming can be considered organic. Foods labeled as "natural" are not regulated and do not meet the same criteria that organic foods do.
If you prefer to buy locally grown organic produce, there are several organic farms on Long Island where members pick up their weekly share of the produce grown at that farm. They include: The Garden of Eve in Riverhead (gardenofevefarm.com), The Golden Earthworm in Jamesport (goldenearthworm.com), The Hamlet Organic Garden in Brookhaven (hamletorganicgarden.org), and Restoration Farms in Old Bethpage (restorationfarms.com). You can visit their locations or websites for more information about membership.