Saturday, November 21, 2009

Farmer's market and "organic" produce...

I actually live a few city blocks away from a very nice Farmer's Market. For those of you in Sacramento, it's in the back parking lot of Country Club Plaza, which is the lamest mall in the city. It's not even really a mall, but they keep switching stores out and billing it as one so more shoppers and less elderly mall walkers will show up. It's not working.

Every Saturday morning, however, farmers from all over the valley come and sell local produce at awesome prices, which is more than worth the 30 minute walk from our apartment, which is the same walk we take several times a week, so it's not any extra effort on our part. There's a local lavender farm that sells little blue bottles of 100% lavender essential oil for only 5$! The people from Apple Hill are also there this time of year.

I go to Farmer's Markets to get great produce, to support local farmers and to reduce the amount of wasted resources we become responsible for by inadvertently paying for food to be shipped worldwide. All those reasons are enough on their own, but more than anything I shop there because I serisouly hate buying produce from grocery stores. Why? Because it's freaky. It's genetically modified, filled with pesticides, covered in MSG laced wax, picked too early, and shipped from other countries where they use sprays that are illegal to use here. And with all that going on, you'd think it would be cheaper. But it isn't. It's insanely more expensive to buy produce in grocery stores, and don't even think about buying organic there. It's much better, of course, but you're gonna pay for that organic label.

So, what's the difference between grocery store organic and local produce? In short, money. In order for a farm to sell food that's certified organic, they have to go through a very costly and time consuming process that consists of much more than just growing good produce. There are annual fees and certification fees that some small time farmer's just can't keep up with, but that doesn't mean they don't grow organic produce. It simply means that they don't have the resources to apply and maintain a USDA label, which still doesn't guarantee that your food is 100% organic, anyway. At a local farmer's market, you can actually meet with the people who are growing your food and ask them about their farming practices. You'll find a ton of stands that sell "pesticide-free" fruits and vegetables that just can't afford an organic label. Generally, farms that are able to comply with certification standards are big, make lots of money, and can afford to hire people to deal with the paperwork.

The USDA Organic label itself isn't 100% reassuring, either. In order for a product to sell under the organic label (and the price), it must be 95% organic. Yeah. Products that state "made with organic ingredients" are only 75% organic. So, how much is that label worth? It depends on what you're looking for, and how much you're willing to spend. I think that buying produce at a grocery store is the last resort, organic or not. I'm the only person I know without a porch, a patio or a window to grow food, and I'm the only one mourning the loss, yet from all around I hear complaints about the price of organic food. There is so much that can come from a simple patio pot or a small backyard vegetable plot, and it's free. You can decide what organic means. If you don't have a place to grow food, go and find someone who does. A farmer's market is a great place to start, as well as neighbors, friends, and family who have trees filled with food that go neglected every year. Co-ops, where available, are also helpful.

While we're on the subject of organic food, I'm hearing a lot of people whining about how organic food isn't worth the price because it isn't any more nutritious than conventional food. In this situation, the bottom line isn't what's in organic food, it's what ISN'T in organic food that makes all the difference. If you're that concerned, go back to the soil. Follow that apple/zucchini/persimmon or whatever it is back to it's roots, and you'll get a good idea of how nutritious it's going to be. Now, that's going to be pretty hard to do if you buy tomatoes from Mexico, unless someone you know is going to have a bachelor party. I'd prefer to eat something a little closer to home. In addition, food todau has, at best, 1/5 of the nutrition of the food your grandparents ate. So, you can either eat 5 more plates, or you can supplement and juice.

I walked out of that market today with a lot of produce, and I spent 8$. I got 3 huge daikons with the greens still on (can't get that anywhere else), a big bundle of 7-8 baby bok choy, 2 salad cucumbers, 5 eggplants, 1 pound of shady lady tomatoes, 1 pound of onions, and the biggest head of cabbage I have ever seen. I'm not kidding, it weighs as much as a pumpkin and is nearly as big, and it's was only 1.50$. I might have got more, but all that was getting kind of heavy. Another farmer had huge bags of apples for 3$, and I really wanted one. The Almighty Persimmon, my favorite thing in the world to eat, was also incredibly cheap, averaging 75 cents a pound for big, beautiful Fuyus. Or, I can get tiny, sad looking ones at Savemart for 1$ apiece from who knows where. But I got some from a local tree :)

My Mom calls me a Food Nazi because I tell her these sorts of things, but I'm of the mindset where I'd rather know exactly what I'm eating than just leave it up to someone else and hope that they got it right. I don't think it's possible for everyone who reads this to just cast off decades of habit and start frantically digging in the backyard, but I do think it's possible to eat mindfully. It's important to understand what your options are, but it's equally important to realize that there are other options that you aren't aware of, and it's your responsibility to seek them out. Awesomeness isn't going to knock on your door.

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