Posts Tagged ‘Organic’

Posted on June 18, 2013 - by

In Organic We Trust…But Should We?

When savvy shoppers like us buy food, we often look for the “organic” label, since these products are the ones that are the most sustainable, ecofriendly and nutritious for us. Or are they? What does “organic” really mean, and does it deserve the trust that we place in it? Recently, the FRESH team was inspired by a new documentary from director Kip Pastor called In Organic We Trust to think about these questions and more. Below, we’re sharing some tips on how to understand the organic label. In addition, we’re excited to offer the In Organic We Trust DVD at a specially discounted rate of $18.99 for a limited time. Read on to find out more!

What Organic Means:

  • USDA Certification: The organic label means that the ingredients came from producers who were certified by the USDA as upholding organic standards.
  • Limited Pesticides: Organic produce is grown without synthetic and persistent pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. Eating organic produce is a good way to reduce your exposure to these chemicals.
  • GMO Free: Organic foods do not include genetically-modified ingredients.
  • No Irradiation: Organic produce has not been exposed to irradiation, an ionizing radiation treatment used to kill foodborne pathogens and reduce spoilage.

What Organic Doesn’t Mean:

  • Small Scale Producer: Unfortunately, food conglomerates have realized that premium prices equals larger profits, and they have bought many formerly independent organic operations. Many organic brands are in fact subsidiaries of larger mainstream companies, such as Kashi and Kellogg’s, or Muir Glen and General Mills.
  • Locally Sourced: Much of the organic produce at your supermarket probably comes from CA, while the small scale farms in your community may be local, but not certified organic.
  • Fair Labor Practices: An organic farm can be staffed by exploited workers who suffer poor pay and lack benefits. The Fair Trade label certifies that the food was produced by workers who were fairly compensated, but these requirements are not part of the organic standards.
  • No Additives: If the product is not labeled “100% organic,” up to 5% can be composed of the 100+ non-organic additives allowed by the National List. Many of the additives are included because no organic substitute is available or for economic reasons, and while not all of them are harmful, the list does include items like cellulose (indigestible wood pulp) and carrageenan (linked to intestinal inflammation and colon cancer).

The Bottom Line:

  • Know Your Farmer: Just because your local farmer hasn’t had the time or funding to get organic certification doesn’t mean they aren’t running a sustainable operation. It may be better to buy from someone you know and trust over an unknown, large scale organic farm elsewhere.
  • Organic Still Means Something: While the label may not encompass all that we would hope, the organic standards are still a good start to differentiating the types of farms and producers we want to support. Remember that the label “natural” is unregulated and doesn’t mean anything, while “organic” does require adherence to regulations.
  • Dirty Dozen: Maybe you don’t have the budget or the availability to buy only organic products. In that case, carry the Dirty Dozen card in your wallet or store it on your phone. This lists the top fruits and vegetables that carry the highest levels of pesticide residues. Strive to purchase organic versions of these foods where possible.

If you’d like to learn more about the facts behind the organic label, we highly recommend the film In Organic We Trust, which explores these issues.

Check out the trailer and purchase the film here:

Ideas? Suggestions? Leave us a comment below with your thoughts on organic labeling and organic certification!

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Posted on June 22, 2011 - by

Eat Smart: Avoiding Pesticides While Saving Money

Of all the reasons to buy organic produce, many people cite “avoiding pesticides” as their top motivator: 98% of conventional apples and 96% of conventional celery contain pesticide residues. But not all conventional produce is ridden with chemicals. Residues were found on less than 10% of conventional onions, sweet corn, and asparagus.

To help consumers make informed choices about what produce to buy organic and what’s safe to purchase conventional, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has just released the seventh edition of its “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen,” which compile the most and least contaminated conventional fruits and vegetables into accessible lists based on data from the USDA’s Pesticide Testing Program.

Apples topped this year’s Dirty Dozen, with 98% of samples containing residues and 56 different pesticides detected. Mushrooms made it into the Clean 15 for the first time. See the lists below or check out the full study to learn how the in-between produce stacked up.

Hidden Threats

Pesticides are designed to kill living organisms, so it’s no surprise that they negatively impact human health. Over time, exposure to the pesticides used on food products can cause birth defects, nerve damage, hormone disruption, and cancer. Babies and children face the greatest risks, because their organs are still developing and they eat and drink more than adults do in relation to their body weight. A 2009 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found pesticides in blood and urine samples of 96% of Americans age 6 and older.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is charged with regulating the safety of pesticides used in the US and determining limits (“tolerances”) on how much of each chemical may be left on food sold to consumers. But current standards don’t do enough to protect our health. Residue monitoring only covers those pesticides that are registered for use in the US, so tests may not even detect some highly toxic chemicals. (A 2009 study showed that FDA inspections did not test for 71% of the pesticides used on squash and 61% used on chayote grown in Costa Rica for the US market.) Federal scientists recently found 33 unapproved pesticides on nearly half of cilantro samples, indicating that sporadic testing is not sufficient to protect consumers. Moreover, established “safe” limits do not effectively account for combinations of the many pesticides present on foods and various sources of exposure to chemicals in our air, water, personal care products, and household cleaning supplies that collectively impact our health.

What Can I Do?

Washing and peeling your produce can help reduce pesticide exposure, but do not eliminate residue. Many chemicals are absorbed systemically, so no amount of washing will remove them. Inspectors prepare each fruit or vegetable as it would normally be eaten before testing (e.g. peeling bananas, washing apples and peaches), so detected residues reflect what actually goes into your body when you eat each food.   

The health benefits of a diet full of fruits and vegetables—conventional or organic—far outweigh the health risks presented by pesticide residues on produce. But you can substantially reduce your exposure to these toxic substances by choosing organic versions of the 12 fruits and vegetables most likely to be contaminated by pesticides. If you can’t go all organic, the Clean 15 helps you choose the safest conventional produce.

 Dirty Dozen

  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Strawberries
  4. Peaches
  5. Spinach
  6. Nectarines (imported)
  7. Grapes (imported)
  8. Sweet bell peppers
  9. Potatoes
  10. Blueberries (domestic)
  11. Lettuce
  12. Kale/collard greens

Clean Fifteen

  1. Onions
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Avocado
  5. Asparagus
  6. Sweet peas
  7. Mangoes
  8. Eggplants
  9. Cantaloupe (domestic)
  10. Kiwi
  11. Cabbage
  12. Watermelon
  13. Sweet potatoes
  14. Grapefruit
  15. Mushrooms

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Posted on February 24, 2011 - by

The Happiest Pigs in France

We’ve been talking about genetically-modified and factory farmed pigs lately, so let’s take a break to look a decidedly more pleasant sort of pig farm.

Anyone who has even briefly investigated livestock production at industrial farms knows that the process is wholly unnatural, with animals reduced to meat-generating machines, forced to live in dirty, cramped conditions.

At Ferme des Levées, owners Anne and Jacques Volatier firmly believe in treating their pigs with respect and raising them with traditional, organic farming methods. Jacques began raising pigs in 2000, and prior to purchasing this farm, he had no farming experience and worked as a civil engineer in town planning. “I don’t know how exactly to describe it, but I had an intuitive sense that I wanted to find a way to help grow the planet and start a project that would benefit the local economy. The intuition has now become certainty and a way of life in the countryside.” He attended an agricultural training program for a year, acquired the necessary capital and decided to launch a pig breeding operation because it was a product that could be raised and transformed entirely on the farm.

Fermes des Levées is now fully organic and consists of 40 hectares of fields, some which grow cereals that will be used for pig feed. The pigs also eat the natural vegetation of whatever field they live in, and over the course of a year, they are capable of mowing down a field to its roots. Between the fields, Jacques has planted 400 elderflower plants to provide shade. The resulting fruit is used to make elderflower preserves and a syrup perfectly suited for flavoring water.

The Volatiers hold about 150 pigs, and it is impossible not to smile as Jacques waves at his drift of pigs and says enthusiastically, “I know this sounds funny in English, but I call them ‘Mes ti-tis!'” (This is a shortened version of “petits,” or “little ones” in French.) The pigs will grunt, root and frolic here for one year before being taken to slaughter; compare this to an average lifespan of four months for an industrially raised pig.

Each week, 3-4 pigs are chosen to bring to the slaughterhouse, 18 km away in Beaune. “We are lucky that there is a slaughterhouse so close by, because more and more often these days the small slaughterhouses are closing down,” explained Jacques. Even so, being in a new, noisy environment can visibly stress the pigs, and Jacques has lost several to the red ravages of porcine stress syndrome. He now tries to minimize the time the pigs spend at the slaughterhouse and spends time calming them beforehand. Unfortunately, due to legal restrictions, you cannot slaughter a pig on site in France.

Some of the meat is sold fresh, but much of it is cooked, cured and transformed into charcuterie products. We sat down to a buffet of crusty baguette, salads, and a platter of fresh pork products: ham with mustard seed, a specialty of the farm; pâté en croûte, marinaded meat wrapped in pastry crust; jambon persillé, jellied ham with a strong dose of parsley; farm-smoked ham; country pâté; rillettes. “All done without e-numbers!” said Jacques.

Some charcuterie products are sold directly to people who travel to the farm or randomly stroll past, but 80% of the goods are sold through the Dijon market at Les Halles. You can find the Volatiers there twice a week on Friday and Saturday mornings.

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Posted on July 23, 2010 - by

Market Salamander: Local Fare with Lots of Flare in Virginia

Market Salamander Local Fare with Lots of Flare
Breakfast Never Tasted So Good!

Guest Post by: Bill Couzens, Founder Less Cancer
Middleburg, Virginia

Market Salamander is designed as an open marketplace that caters to contemporary demands and lifestyles by offering a selection of local, organic, chef-prepared foods.

With a focus on healthy cuisine and an endless assortment of high-quality fresh ingredients, Market Salamander is attracting patrons near and far. The market offers an unrivaled selection of seasonal produce, prime aged meats, fresh caught seafood, artisanal cheeses, homemade breads, fresh baked pastries, boutique wines, and imported packaged goods. And while quality often comes with a high price, Market Salamander is a best deal for a local breakfast. In fact, breakfast never tasted so good!

Market Salamander’s team in Middleburg is led by Vaughn Skaggs, the Chef de Cuisine, who began his culinary career at a young age in Virginia. Originally inspired by his mother, an inventive cook and restaurateur, Skaggs’ tireless conviction and support of gastronomic, local, organic, and sustainable foods makes him the “backbone of Market Salamander.”

Skaggs’ philosophy about the origins of the ingredients Salamander uses reveals his passion for the art of healthy cooking and living. “Whether it is produce or fresh meats, buying local helps many aspects of our business. It gives our guests a sense of trust and loyalty, knowing that they could trace which farm their food is coming from. The food is always more fresh and tastes better when it comes from the local farms. We also feel better about the food we are serving. We are leaving a smaller environmental footprint, instead of using transportation. In addition, we are supporting local businesses and helping keep our community economy strong.”

Skaggs’s culinary evolution has taken place in some of the best kitchens in the area – like Vidalia’s in Washington, DC; Potomac Grill in Leesburg, Virginia; and some of the most exclusive private homes of Virginia. His skilled culinary repertoire, coupled with his positive attitude and devotion to freshness and seasonality, has won him many acquaintances in the local farm movement. His combination of talent and commitment drives his passion for delicious and conscientious food.

Jason Reaves, Pastry Chef

Recently awarded the 2008 Front-Line Tourism Employee of the Year by the Loudoun Convention & Visitors Association, Jason Reaves is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY with a degree specializing in baking and pastry.

Before joining the staff at Market Salamander, Reaves worked at Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg, Virginia; Postrio in San Francisco, California; and as Pastry Chef on board Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of Aloha, and Pride of America. Reaves specializes in custom wedding and special occasion cakes as well as delicious pastries.

Though young, Jason Reaves is already famous for his mouth watering Salamander’s Signature Butterscotch Scone. At just 2.00 per Scone, it is the most delicious thing you could ever eat at breakfast – especially delicious with Salamander’s bottomless cup of coffee!

Salamander often uses local and organic foods. One such supplier is Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, Virginia which has been growing healthy, beautiful foods since 1821. The present farm was purchased in 1912 by Brig. Gen. James A. Buchanan of Washington, DC. The historic property of approximately 800 acres was purchased from his descendants in 1996 by Sandy Lerner. The farm’s mission appropriately states, “To farm sustainably and profitably, promoting the benefits of locally produced, humanely raised meats and organic produce to the consumer, our community, and our children through education, outreach and example.”

Dr. Maryann Donovan, Director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, said, “Beyond the obvious benefits in freshness, quality, and flavor, eating seasonally and sourcing food locally can make important contributions to reducing carbon emissions. The local farms that are additionally certified organic, and the markets that sell organic foods, also have great potential for reducing exposures to pesticides and other chemicals, benefiting both the environment and human health.”

Salamander’s owner Sheila Johnson (musician, movie producer, sports team owner ) understands the importance of local and organic fare, often feeding the Washington Mystics a farm to table regime.

The good news is that you too can enjoy a breakfast of champions and not have to break the bank to eat healthy.


Posted on February 3, 2010 - by

Urgent: USDA to rule on mutant alfalfa

Dear FRESH supporters,

Genetic food giant Monsanto is at it again. Its next target: a new product that could eliminate all organic alfalfa, a key food for raising organic-fed cows and pigs without any genetic engineering. Oceanflynn on Flickr

The USDA is well on its way to approving Monsanto’s genetically modified alfalfa. In its own report, the USDA says that not enough consumers care enough about organic foods for the USDA to block Monsanto’s modified alfalfa seeds. [1]  This is absurd since one of the main reasons people buy organic food is to avoid genetically engineered crops.

The USDA is only accepting public comments for the next two weeks. We need you to write to the USDA right now and tell them they must not approve Monsanto’s mutant alfalfa. We’ll deliver your comments before the deadline. [2]

Click here:

Alfafa is one of the major food sources for certified organic animals, not only because of its quality as forage, but because Monsanto’s patented genes are already found in 95% of soybeans and 80% of corn. If the USDA lets Monsanto sell its new alfalfa, it will inevitably overtake organic alfalfa crops through the natural pollination process. [3] As a result organic farmers may be feeding their cows genetically modified food.

Just like its corn and soy, Monsanto’s alfalfa is designed to tolerate its leading herbicide: Roundup. We can’t allow Monsanto’s greed to take-over one more crop. The consequences to our choice as consumer, to biological diversity, to the survival of our small and organic farmers depends are too dire.

Monsanto’s domination of our food must stop. For the USDA to shrug it off like nobody cares is to add insult to injury. We only have two weeks to submit our comments.The fight for FRESH food will continue, and with your help we’ll make it clear that people care about the food they eat.

Let’s show the USDA and Monsanto that people want food free from Monsanto’s modifications. Write your comments to the USDA now and say no to genetically modified alfalfa.

The fight for FRESH food will continue, and with your help we’ll make it clear that people care about the food they eat.

Thanks for all you do.

ana Sofia joanes

FRESH the Movie



1. United States Department of Agriculture. Glyphosate-Tolerant Alfalfa Events J101 and J163: Request for Nonregulated Status. Draft Environmental Impact Statement-November 2009. P.T-2.
2. Docket: APHIS-2007-0044: USDA Seeks Public Comment on Genetically Engineered Alfalfa
3. United States Department of Agriculture. Glyphosate-Tolerant Alfalfa Events J101 and J163: Request for Nonregulated Status. Draft Environmental Impact Statement-November 2009. P.95.

Reviews Supplemental documents here:
10 Things you should know about GE Alfalfa
Photo courtesy of OceanFlynn on Flickr


Posted on November 16, 2009 - by

12 Things Kids Should Learn on their Own about Food

By: Orren Fox
Guest Blogger: Orren Fox is 12 years old and lives in NoBo (North of Boston). He goes to school where there is a greenhouse and a bee hive! Orren has 24 chickens and four ducks (three Call Ducks and one beautiful Mandarin). He is really interested in farming and the ethical treatment of animals. Orren would love to change the way egg layers and meat birds are raised. He says he has a lot to learn. He blogs and tweets about these issues.

There are all sorts of really interesting things to learn about food, actually I imagine you might not have really THOUGHT about food. Maybe someone hasn’t taught you about food. Most kids would rather think about other stuff.

But just for a minute, right now, stop and ask yourself – What did I have for breakfast? Ok now, think – Where did all those ingredients come from? Who made that bagel? What time did they have to get up? Where did that egg come from? Where did the chicken live and how did it live? If you knew the animal was poorly treated would that make a difference? Or not? Where did the orange juice travel from? Florida? California? Have you ever traveled to those states? Is it a long way from California or Florida to your house? How much gas did it use to ship the OJ that far?

All really interesting questions I think.
1. Vegetables taste great with butter and cheese

Honestly, what doesn’t. Even asparagus, really even asparagus. I know there are some people who will say butter and cheese aren’t healthy, but hey I’m a kid and actually I think these are true foods or “real foods.” They aren’t chemically made in a laboratory. They come from recipes not chemical compounds or lab experiments. Maybe that is too harsh. But I understand eggs and cheese, I know where they come from. I don’t know what SODIUM TRIPOLYPHOSPHATE is, so I Googled it (here is what Wikipedia says – Polyphosphates are moderately irritating to skin and mucous membrane because of their alkalinity). Hmm. Not really interested in eating that.

Actually most veggies that you grow yourself or that come from your neighborhood farm taste completely different than those from the buckets in the supermarket. I actually think the veggies in the supermarket don’t really taste like much. A carrot that was harvested yesterday tastes very different from one that was harvested a few weeks ago, then spent the next few days on a truck, then the next few days sitting in the supermarket. I think the flavor must just drain out of everything as time passes. Also in the supermarket there are very few types of veggies or fruits. Very rarely would you see a Green Zebra or a Brandywine, and those are just tomato variations! Each of these variations tastes completely different, we are only really offered one or two types of tomatoes at the supermarket. These two types of tomatoes are the kinds that travel well and that are easiest to ripen or harvest. I actually don’t like the kind in the supermarket, I like Brandywines. They are sweeter.

I think kids might like veggies if they could choose the varieties they like, but they can’t because the choice is so small. I wouldn’t eat tomatoes if I could only eat the kind in the supermarket.

2. Food taste better when you grow it yourself

Food tastes better because your work is in it. I am an impatient gardener, so for me the food tastes great because I have had to wait for it to go from seeds to seedlings to flowers to fruit to ripe fruit. Somehow that makes it taste like you did it. So i guess there is a little bit of pride in those vegetables.