Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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October 23 2012

So, Is Organic a Scam?

By Mark Sisson
86 Comments

Over the past several weeks, I’ve laid out a considerable amount of evidence showing that there indeed are substantive differences between organic produce and conventional produce. Organic is often more nutritious, with a greater concentration of phytonutrients (contrary to what the popular media has been saying). Conventional produce shows up in your kitchen with far more pesticide residues, and these residues appear to be especially harmful to youngsters, babies, and fetuses (feti?). Antibiotic resistance, which is on the rise, is partially attributable to the widespread usage of antibiotics in conventional agriculture; organic agriculture forbids their usage. Many studies have also shown organic farming to be better for the environment, the local ecosystem, the renewability of the farm, and the health of its workers. Organic food is usually more expensive, but the research tends to suggest that you’re getting something extra out of it.

That’s all well and good, but should you buy organic? This is the real question that needs answering.

I don’t think there’s a single answer. It’s contextual (as it always is). So let’s look at a few different contexts.

Who should probably spring for organic?

People who are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant. Fetuses are particularly susceptible to the effects of pesticides and reliant upon the nutrients from high-quality plants.

People who are going to be feeding small kids. Humans develop slowly, especially when compared to other animals, and the first five years are especially crucial to the health and long term development of children.

People who eat a lot of a particular type of produce. If you’re making kale chips by the pound on a daily basis, get the organic kale. Spread the potential damage around.

People who eat from “The Dirty Dozen.” Check out the list of the twelve most pesticide-ridden examples of produce of 2012 (plus the 15 cleanest counterparts that don’t necessarily need to be organic). I have to say, though – doesn’t it seem like they’re shortchanging us for a cutesy rhyme? I find it hard to believe that there are only 12 “dirty” and 15 “clean.” What about number 13? Number 16? At any rate, the lists are helpful tools.

People who have the money. Organic can be more expensive than conventional. You don’t want to be the guy eating organic golden beets down by the river, but if you can afford organic food, I’d suggest doing so.

Other motivations may not involve your immediate personal health, but they’re also good reasons for going organic:

To support the health of agricultural workers. It can be easy to forget about them, but they’re people who deserve the ability to make a living without constant exposure to dangerous chemicals.

To support improved sequestration of carbon into the soil. If we’re all about paying homage to our Primal roots, we should acknowledge that the earth used to sequester a whole lot more carbon into its soil before we began altering its surface through agriculture. Its Primal roots are lots and lots of carbon sequestered in its soil!

To support the maintenance of healthy soil and biodiversity. Healthy soil means healthier, more nutritious plants. A biodiverse farm uses fewer pesticides and requires less labor to repel invaders.

To prevent the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. I’ve explained how antibiotic resistance impacts our health before.

However, when it comes down to it…

Just eat plants – whatever type you can obtain and afford.

Don’t let the spectre of organic paralyze you. Don’t let it keep you from availing yourself of the wonderful bounty of the plant kingdom. Don’t avoid that Asian market full of interesting and mysterious vegetation just because nothing’s labeled “organic.” Don’t go full-on carnivore. Keep in mind that all those studies that find links between fruit and vegetable intake and improved longevity, lowered risk for disease, and better birth outcomes aren’t referring to organic produce. The vast majority of produce consumed in this and other countries is conventional, with just 0.9% of global agricultural land being devoted to organic farming (PDF), and it’s still consistently linked with health benefits. When a study talks about “fruit and vegetable intake” being associated with health benefits, you can assume they’re talking about conventional produce unless specified otherwise. 

Besides, organic is changing. Big Agra, seeing dollar signs, is getting involved, and the authorities have been more than willing to alter their original conception of organic to make things a little easier, a little simpler (at least for the big guys with droves of lawyers ready, willing, and paid to navigate the legal landscape). Prime example: back in 2002, 77 non-organic items were allowed to be used in organic food production without ruining the name. This is known as the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. Today, that list has ballooned to include over 250 non-organic items that can be used in organic food (crops, livestock, processed food production). What does “organic” mean, then? Is organic spinach from Walmart just as good, just as fresh, and just as nutritious as organic spinach from the farmers market?

But still, I think as a general rule, “organic” food is more likely to contain fewer pesticides, be grown under more environmentally friendly conditions, be safer for your children (both born and unborn), have more polyphenols, negatively impact the health of fewer agricultural workers and fewer bees, and spawn less antibiotic-resistant bacteria than “conventional” food. The evidence is pretty clear.

Buy local.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: local trumps all. When you buy from a farmers market, you can see the person who produced your food. You can ask them what, if any, pesticides were used, and, if any were, go home and research their effects. You can bounce from one stand to the next, trying samples of all the various offerings, until you find the best one. You can be assured that this bunch of kale or that flat of berries was picked that day and immediately brought to market, rather than several weeks ago and allowed to sit around in cold storage. But – and I almost think this is the most important factor of all – you truly know that your food was sown, grown, and harvested by real people with faces, names, personalities, and real stakes in the game. Sure, we all “know” that people are responsible for the food we eat, but we don’t ever meet them. We never get the felt presence of immediate experience that’s so crucial to really understanding and experiencing life if we get our produce from packages from distant lands. The vitamins and minerals might be the same, but the experience is not, and that matters. Food’s not just sustenance and polyphenols and calories.

I hope I made things a little more clear today. My intent was not to scare people away from conventional produce. Rather, I wanted to give you a fair summation of the evidence and clear up some popular misconceptions made even more popular as of late. Take the information presented, see how it applies to your life situation, and go from there. But whatever you do, eat your plants and your animals. Live your life, enjoy it. Be with loved ones, talk with friends. Play as much as possible, get sun when it’s available. Feel the ground on your bare feet, walk every day, and lift some heavy stuff now and then. Ruminate on the awesomeness that is life, and try to find peace with where and what you are. Laugh. If some measly pesticides manage to do you harm despite all that other stuff, at least you’ll have lived a good life.

Thanks for reading, folks. Take care and be sure to leave a comment on what you’ve taken from this series.

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86 thoughts on “So, Is Organic a Scam?”

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  1. I buy organic and/or local exclusively. I don’t find it to be extravagantly more expensive and I’m not rich. I think the old addage, “Pay the farmer or pay the doctor.” comes into play here.

    1. Unfortunately, even this is becoming difficult to do without physically going to the farmer’s place.

      My friend, who sells products at the local farmer’s market, told me that several of the farmer’s there admitted they sprayed their crops. He even visited one of the farms and sure enough, the guy told him he sprayed everything. They ran a CSA with 9 other families…

      We have several Mennonite farmers who also sell their food and they will admit (only if you press them on it) that they, too, spray their crops. It seems you can trust no one these days.

      1. I agree Greg. Look at Lance Armstrong, how many times did the guy say he wasn’t doping and it was a witch hunt. We come to find out that the top 3 racers during those years wouldn’t have passed either.

        I think people with good intentions find themselves doing things they know they shouldn’t….it doesn’t matter wether you ride a bike or farm a field 🙁

      2. The official statistic is that about 1 in 20 people are clinical psychopaths who only serve their own self interests and see nothing wrong with causing harm to others in the process. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by all the BS and think it seems the other way around, that only 1 in 20 are altruistic!

        1. And with the state of the world sometimes good people have no choice but to do unsavory things just to get by.

        2. Coming back from the countryside this weekend we stopped to get potatoes from the side of the road. (Toddler eats them). They cost $5 for 5kgs but we only had $4.10 in change. So we went to the next stand and paid $10 for 5kgs officially priced at $7. My husband stated the obvious- ‘I’d rather pay more for the better spuds than rip the other guy off’. Organic- doubt it, at least they sprout. The potatoes from the org.store never sprout. What the *** are they doing then?

      3. Did they ever claim that they didn’t spray? Did the farmers market represent itself as organic? I don’t think asking someone a question and getting an honest answer qualifies as “admitting,” especially if there were no claims otherwise. Like Mark said, the reason you go to a farmers market is so that you can ask those questions. Did they say what they sprayed with? Is it dangerous? “Spraying” is a very generic term that doesn’t necessarily denote danger.

        1. Just about everyone “sprays “, including organic farmers. The better question would be “with what”. I work at a So Cal farm which is considered sustainable, participates in numerous farmer’s markets and has a “pick your own ” operation and I agree with Mark -get to know your farmers if possible -ask questions, etc. I would rather have local than remote organic any day.

      4. Man that sucks to hear. I’ve often wondered is this really organic?? I stick to the same farms that are reputable, offer farm tours, and who are kind of into the the whole organic for the earth and its proper way to grow produce rather than the ones tht are growing organic because people want it. Of course they could be hiding the barrels of pesticides when they do farm tours a some point you have to choose who to trust and hope your intuition was right.

        1. Organic farmer’s still spray, the point is that they are using sprays that are not considered potentially mutagenic! One of the most commonly used pesticides is a specialized soap that kills aphids; but it is just that: a soap.

          I still grow sad for science education when people tell me something is great because “it doesn’t have any chemicals in it”. What is this amazing substance, other than a perfect vacuum? Folks, everything, from you to the chair you are sitting on is made of chemical compounds; it is the arrangement and composition that we are discussing here.

          I’m OK with an organic farmer who uses insecticidal soap so that he actually ends up with a crop to sell, and the orginal, not-corrupted-by-big-money organic standards were/are too. The word “spray” does NOT mean NOT ORGANIC!

      5. I have seen that not all Farmer’s Market products are to the standards of Organic that we ideally think of.

  2. Thanks Mark. As usual a thoughtful, well balanced post. I agree that farmer’s markets are a great way to buy. I am lucky to belong to the Sacramento Natural Food Co-op, where I can get organic produce produced as locally as possible.

  3. Good point about pregnant women and children needing organic more than other people. It is also important for pregnant women and children to avoid BPA because it is so bad for you and leads to obesity. BPA can be found in many plastics and in the lining of tin cans. So try to eliminate or limit your intake of food from cans and never reheat food in a plastic container. If you have bottled water, make sure the plastic is BPA free.

    Mark, you are slowly winning me over on this whole organic produce thing. I will pay more attention to organic next time I go to the grocery store.

    1. Bulk mixed organic greens and bags of organic carrots are usually affordable.

    2. True. I know that people say “pay now or pay the doctor later,” but that only applies to people who buy cheap food so that they can buy other more frivolous things. If you are already strapped with just paying bills and the basics, then you just can’t afford organic. My kiddo is autistic, and my other one has some issues too. I buy the best meat I can, but to be honest, unless it is the top dozen or so veggies/ fruits with soft skins, I buy conventional because our diet is so high in produce (GAPS diet) and meats. We have cut cable down to basic tv just to keep sane, no entertainment budget, cut insurance to basic legal coverage and are continually looking on ways to cut phone and Internet speed. We need the phone and Internet in order to take care of things for our daughter and for support. We have even managed to cut my cat’s prescription food to using Friskies. We spend $150-$200 every TWO WEEKS on diapers for my almost 8 year old.

      Sorry, didn’t mean to vent (or at least sound like it,) but sometimes that phrase annoys me, lol! It sucks knowing your kids’ health is on the line and with cutting costs, you STILL can’t afford to do what you need to, sigh! Oh well. I can only do what I can do.

  4. Thanks Mark for this well thought out and well written series as the elections loom and Californians like myself will have the opportunity to vote yes or no on Proposition 37, thereby voicing our opinions on whether we believe that GMOs in our food should be labelled. I for one will be voting YES and urge everyone else who cares about the present and future of our food to do the same. Grok on!!

  5. I use several different stores on a regular basis for the very reasons stated in this article. Buying everything organic isn’t necessary, and old-fashioned one-stop shopping at places like Whole Foods can really add to the bill. Paper products and other nonedibles, for instance, can cost three times more at such places than they would at Costco (where you can buy in bulk) or an ordinary supermarket.

    1. I actually spend less money now buying local at my farmer’s market then I did when I shopped at the grocery store. The difference? Farmer’s market = cash. Grocery = credit card. I am more in tune with how I spend my money when the cash is in my hand. I spend $50-75/week on food. (I’m an army of one)

      1. We have found the same thing in going primal–we spend less $$ overall at the grocery store. We have a share we pick up at the farmer’s market and the rest we grow ourselves. (Best way to guarantee it’s organic.)

        We have a bed that is 3 feet wide by 6 feet long and sits on a concrete patio. I have successfully planted tomatoes, cucumbers, pepper, kale, asparagus, lettuce and various herbs.

      2. There’s a neuroeconomics study out of MIT that backs this. You get activity in both the nucleus accumbens (main part of the reward circuit) and the insula (where the feeling of disgust originates) whenever you use cash during a transaction but when you use plastic only the nucleus accumbens is active. You literally don’t feel like you’ve lost something when you use a debit or credit card.

  6. Great last paragraph…..what attracts me most to this site is your whole philosophy.

    1. Couldn’t agree more Judy, i think Mark summed it up perfectly in that last paragraph. He puts so much into his articles, we are so lucky to have access to all his knowledge and research. Thank you, Mark!

  7. What about milk? I have 2 young kids (1 and 2) that drink loads of it…
    Does organic makes a lot of difference? What about lightly filtered vs pasteurized?

    Thanks

    1. If you look up what else can appear in your conventional milk, you will never WANT to serve it again. I know it’s more expensive to serve organic, but its worth it.
      Perhaps the kids could be weaned off the milk a little bit. Then the smaller amount that you do serve could be (affordably) organic?
      BTW- I think Mark did a post on this recently.

      1. Sometimes when resorting to conventional dairy products I think I can taste the pus. I was almost gagging this morning forcing down Salvation Army’s Philadelphia cream cheese, Astro yogurt, and milk.. the only substantial protein and fat sources. I’m getting very sick of conventional dairy.
        I’m wondering if it’s worth it to do this for the sake of maintaining muscle mass and strength or if I should just go a bit hungry and scrawny.

    2. I’m sure the raw milk advocates will weigh in here, but raw milk (if you can get it in your area) is proven to be the most nutritious.

      If you can’t get it, try and find low-temp pasteurized milk from grass-fed cows. Organic brand-name milk may be only partially grass-fed. Grass-fed milk will have the most nutrients for your children. If you can’t find low-temp pasteurized grass-fed, then go with store-bought organic. It’ll still be better than milk from cows fed all kinds of junk in industrial feed lots.

      1. Raw Milk of course is best, but “oh my god!!” expensive. I’ve always noticed that the organic milks at the regular stores are all ultra-pastuerized. How can any of the good stuff be left after that! I too have children and they loved milk! Mainly because I was allowing them to eat cereal at the time. Now that I am primal they don’t ask for it near as much. Try looking into Sally Fallon’s “Coconut Tonic” recipe. She takes a can of coconut milk, a can of filtered water, some vanilla and 1 tbsp of Maple syrup. She adds some Dolomite powder for added calcium, but with all the veggies we eat, i don’t worry about my calcium levels much. I put it all into my vitamix and blend it for a minute or so and then pour it into a quart jar and refrigerate it. It’s wonderful tasting and my kids love it! I often lighten up the amount of syrup that I put in it and add a bit of stevia if needed. You do need to shake it up before pouring though. Between that and making some almond milk, my family barely misses milk anymore.

      2. Not lucky here in Quebec, no raw milk allowed and no grass fed cows! And Organic is twice the price… hard on the budget.

    3. Sounds gross Richard. Wouldn’t let my toddler touch the stuff. A bit of research goes a long way into dairy…

    4. Raw milk can not be produced legally where I live. All of the raw milk available in supermarkets is ultra-pasteurized (not good) and is rated poorly by Cornicopia.org which rates milk, eggs and other organic foods. A lot of the “organic” milk sold in supermarkets is of questionable quality according to Cornucopia.

      I buy raw milk sold “for pet consumption only” which I know is from grass fed cows but is not rated “organic”. I can also get “organic” milk from a health food store that sells milk that is not homogenized and is pasteurized at the lowest legal temperature. (It is not rated by Cornucopia for some reason: maybe they have to pay to get rated.)

  8. Thanks for a great series! We will continue to purchase most of our produce locally with dirt still attached. Thankful we can do that! BTW, according to Wikipedia: “Its correct plural is “fetuses”, not “feti”, as Latin f?tus is fourth declension and its Latin plural is f?t?s.” Not even sure what the heck that means, but there you go! 🙂

    1. Makes me think of yeti, and consequently hairy feti sightings.

      1. That’s when if you’re pregnant you know your legs have pathological flexibility and you should lay off the melatonin.

  9. I just read Mel Bartholomew’s “All New Square Foot Gardening”. This is a concept that fits perfectly with the Primal lifestyle. Grow your own organic food in a small space. Anyone can grow their produce, even apartment dwellers. I have a garden but next spring I will convert it to a square foot garden.
    I downloaded Mel’s book on my iPad for free or cheap (Kindle version of the book). The garden will also get you out into the sun, walk barefoot, lift, squat, walk, enjoy fresh produce and enjoy life.

    1. Patty, thanks for the tip about “All New Square Foot Gardening” and for mentioning that you read it on kindle. It took some clicking around to find the kindle version! But I did and just bought the book for three bucks.

    2. Thanks Patty. I was just getting ready to mention that one as a good beginner book.
      I also really like the vegetable gardener’s bible by Edward Smith and
      “The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible: How to Grow a Bounty of Food in Pots, Tubs, and Other Containers”

      For more inspiration on how to grow a heckuva lotta food: I love the gardening videos of growingyourgreens.com (redirects to his youtube channel) — if you search for “growing your greens stealing” it showcases his front yard suburban raised garden bed and how he avoids stealing.

      The other thing I’d recommend people try out: grow microgreens. You can use your leftover plastic produce flats…couple inches of soil mix and then spread mesclun mix or whichever. Find a bulk source of greens seeds that are not treated. Lots of google tutorials out there with pictures. It takes about 2-4 weeks depending on what you grow, temperature and sunlight. It could also be something to do inside for the winter if you can spare a location to put a grow light. They are very nutritious, tender, sweet — and better than organic, of course. Radishes also only take a month to grow.
      I promise there’s nothing more satisfying than going grocery shopping in your own backyard or patio.

  10. The point about pregnant women and children eating organic is well taken. And if we can afford it (and we need to put a high priority on what we put in our bodies in our budgets) we should go for organic, IMO.

  11. I like the buy local advice best of all. And grow what you can. I grow a larg percentage of our greens in 110 sq ft. Kale, collards, and chard are excellent producers.

    Dan @ ZenPresence.com

  12. Fortunately I have enough space for a garden 60’X90′. During the Spring & Summer I usually have more than I can give away and right now I am still picking squash, peppers, and cucumber. The turnips and kale are up. I know exactly what I put in/on them. I do use some pest control occasionally, usually it’s a home-made, organic deterrent. My neighbor has about 20 chickens and 35-40 guineas so fertilizer is never a problem. 🙂 When I need it, all I have to do is get the shovel.

    1. Just reminded me with the guineas.. you can get rats from pet stores for $10, and I have an eventual plan to buy one for slaughter and harvest. Particularly the brain. I’ve only eaten brain from bugs, crayfish, and I think anchovies, but it seems like an ideal food.

      1. Hopefully afterwards I won’t be irresistibly drawn to cat piss.

        1. I know that’s what was meant here, but actually guinea pigs do make a good food source that it is practical to raise in a household. Google for guinea pigs as food.

  13. Thanks Mark, loved the last paragraph of your post.
    We are very much conscious of what we buy and eat. We are firm supporters of our local Farmer’s market here in Brownsville, Texas.
    Thanks for all the wonderful information you provide us.

  14. We do organic as much as possible. Mainly things that we eat the outside of (grapes, apples, etc), and not so much on the stuff you normally peel (bananas, oranges).

    Great post!

  15. Another thoughtful post, ta. I am so pleased to live in a country where organic is organic and transparently so and prohylactic antibiotic use in livestock is illegal.

    Nice too, to be able to produce most of our own food on the farm. Makes up for living in the not quite first world.

    Eat local, eat seasonal and eat lots!

  16. Our farmer’s market has gone to a monthly schedule for the short winter … November thru March and I’m already having withdrawals!!

    I found a farmer that sells greens … complete with the holes in the leaves that prove to me they do not use pesticides. 🙂 So I say: Go for the holey greens! If the greens have no holes, there’s a reason the bugs are not liking it.

  17. I enjoy foraging plant foods that grow wild when possible. The wild apples and berries I’ve picked often taste better than what I can get in a store. Clover is good stuff.
    Occasionally I eat dandelions. The leaves and roots are bitter and are better paired with fruit but the flowers taste decent.
    I’ve even eaten a plant I can’t identify after trying it. The leaves look sort of like clover but they grow on little stalks and taste sweet, but sickly after a while, and left my stomach a little bloated and gassy but apparently it digested. The roots are sort of orange. I think it might be something pronounced sow-eh-anne (that’s the French name) that someone told me about.
    I’m confused about plant foods now though as I’ve got Dr. Georgia Ede’s website open (Nutrition Science Meets Common Sense) and it seems to suggest that plants aren’t that good for us and vegetables aren’t worth eating. Sometimes I crave vegetables though and of course they’re edible, and I’ve always had a special love for berries. Maybe I’ll try going carnivore for a while eventually.. just spent over half my weekly government allowance of $30.80 on a 2kg bag of frozen blueberries though and another ~$8 on Baker’s 100% dark chocolate so it looks like I’ll be eating LOTS of plant matter for now.

  18. I’d like to add that I think people with chronic illness need to eat organic as much as possible for better health. Your immune system is already fighting a battle, why feed your body pesticides and make it harder to do so.
    I’m fortunate to live in the Pacific Northwest with lots of access to local, organic foods!

  19. I tend to go for “chemical-free” as opposed to “organic,” when possible. We also feel fortunate to be living in a place where the growing season is long (Dallas) and where foraging is plentiful. We have our vegetable and herb garden, as well as, a good persimmon stump rife with oyster mushrooms.

    1. a good persimmon stump rife with oyster mushrooms

      What a gorgeous image.

  20. the takeaway is Mark’s philosophy for the PB: do the best you can, dont let the perfect be the enemy of the good, etc.
    the fun part of growing your own is seeing the kids reactions to it. they may not quite eat it all yet, but seeing beautiful squash and jars of my pickled tomatoes makes an impression.

  21. wow, not what they said on NPR this morning. eh, I think there is a lobby out there pushing all this “organic is no different” propaganda

    1. There’s a lobby either behind or nuancing everything you hear on the news and every statement that a member of government releases. I’m reminded of the story about how Sex in the City had an episode where they compared an uncircumcised penis with a shar pei dog, and then promptly received irate letters from an uncircumcised penis association and a shar pei breeders association who each felt disgusted being compared to the other. This was a big deal to people without any skin in the game, as it were; fortunes can be made and lost based on whose food is seen to be healthier, so there’s going to be even more influence.

      1. I was thinking of Sex in the City the other week. The concept (IMHO) is to promote brightly illustrated bling propaganda to get women out of the home, away from their children and the all-important kitchen (sorry women’s libbers? Am I?) and in to hard-core superficiality. Written by gay men to create shallow women.

        “Not that there’s anything wrong with that”.
        A ha ha ha.

        1. Hardly. Consumerism is everywhere. It targets men, women, children. It would target dogs if they bought their own stuff.
          I think most women study and work because they want to. Because we are no different from men in wanting to do other things than cook and clean. I know I would rather have chosen a childless life than be forced to stay at home with my children full time. Even though I love them to death. I´m endlessly thankful that I can do both: work and raise them well.

      2. “This was a big deal to people without any skin in the game”

        +1 lololol

        1. I wouldn’t be surprised if people are working on targeting dogs right now. Imagine a TV commercial for dog food engineered to hypnotize and manipulate a dog into smiling and barking at the TV whenever it’s played. People would think their dog has some divine intuition about eating that particular food.

  22. I live in a very small river valley where most of the produce raised is sold at a large roadside market. While none of the crops are certified organic, most do not require any kind of spray, and the people at the market are happy to point out which do get sprayed and tell you why. I can’t begin to tell you what a great thing this market is for our local economy. The farmer rents small pieces of property from a lot of the local landowners who do not, themselves, have big enough pieces to farm efficiently. He employs at least 40 people for 7 months a year, including lots of local teenagers who are working their first job. Just recently he started a non-profit charity to allow folks who need to do public service to come out and strip fields near the end of their productive cycle to provide free food for local food banks. There are so many benefits to our entire community, while the customers are getting very fresh, reasonably-priced, good food and there is no corporate middle man.

  23. That was such a sweet round-up (no pun) at the end Mark. A joy to read.
    : )

  24. If you can, take the time to get to know a local small-scale farmer. In the local food system, you’ll meet some of the hardest-working, centered, kindest, most generous people. Better yet, go help them out for a day. This sounds corny, but you will feel the love in the food they produce.

    1. True, based on the one small-scale farmer I know. I used to live near him and help with the hay-baling.
      He worked in a factory and owned a farm. He paid well.. once gave me $30 for about twenty minutes of just standing and watching a machine wrap plastic around the bales to make sure it didn’t malfunction and also provided lunch and cans of iced tea (I drank it back then).
      He liked to calculate pay by the hour and pay in checks but gave some advanced pay too so I could go out and have fun after working.
      And hay-baling is an awesome workout. The only downside was a little scratchiness and lots of hay dust inhaled and filling my nose and ears but that wasn’t too bad.

      1. .. or maybe it was $20 for about half an hour.. can’t remember dammit.. either way, it was really nice.

  25. I feel very lucky to live near so many farms! Some are strictly organic, some are not, but the veggies, cheese, eggs, and meat I get at the farm markets are absolutely amazing. I love buying local food–it looks and tastes delicious and nourishing.

    I love the idea of organic, but honestly lots of the mainstream organic stuff in the supermarkets looks TERRIBLE–brown, shriveled carrots, slimy lettuce–I’m not sure why this is–maybe they just let it sit around for too long, maybe it just travels too far.

    Ideally, I’d choose organic and local, but local is ultimately more important to me for lots of reasons.

  26. It is nice to hear some common sense in this organic debate…Organic is obviously ideal, and we should always strive to cause change for good in the food industry, but let’s not let it put us off our love of vegetables!
    It would be great if idealistic and realistic were the same, but until then I’ll go organic first, with ‘not-so-organic’ vegetables in close second

  27. I live in WA. Apples and cherries are big crops here, and as such, laws have been enacted to protect those big crops. As a resident, with both apple and cherry trees in my yard, I have to, by law, spray my trees. I have to keep records of what I use and when.

    So I went and found the most organic stuff I could, and I used that. My young trees with 7 apples and 25 cherries had no worms. Maybe because the worms couldn’t find the trees. But my neighbor up the road with more trees who does more conventional sprays, had lots of worms that I cut out of the apples that she gave us.

    If I don’t spray and keep records, if the agricultural department comes by and asks for records and I can’t produce them, they can pull up my trees on the spot. If you move into a place with trees, they will pay you $50 per tree to cut them down for you. Sad. I try hard to grow types that are not the “big sellers” to help keep things a little less monotonous.

    1. Enforced spraying is insane.. if possible in that situation I’d falsify the records.

  28. I’m so jealous of all if you that have year-round (or nearly that) growing seasons. Living in eastern Montana, we have about 2 months I local produce available. Thank god for bountiful baskets and their organic option. Even though the produce mainly comes from California, its more affordable and I feel better about my daughter (and my growing baby belly) eating so much produce. I still soak everything in soapy water the minute I get it home.

    1. I’d expect soap residue to be left on or in the produce after that.
      As a kid if I “swore” – like saying “dammit” – my mom used to make me keep soap in my mouth for a while.. anything that tastes like that shouldn’t be consumed. I used to spit it out on the floor sometimes when she wasn’t looking.
      If anyone subscribes to this cruel tactic I’d suggest capsicum extract, at least it’s healthy.

  29. I try to buy organic here and there, so I’m in transition mode right now. Sometimes the organic produce is grungy though :-\

  30. I am one of the lucky ones; living in Humboldt County in CA. We/I get a majority of our food grown locally, and usually organic. Also because of the cost of shipping, often the cost of “grass fed” and “organic” if local is almost the same as “regular” veggies and meat from the big stores. Some times “sunshine” is a bit hard to come by though.

  31. For me it is about caring about what I eat. It is about taking time and effort of finding the best produce and cooking the most delicious healthy meals.

    Often times organic is a scam. I bought organic butter from Holland only to find out that it was from cows fed with organic grain. Non-organic butter from New Zealand that costs 1/3 of a price is from grass fed cows eating the best New Zealand grass.

    Unfortunately getting the best food is not as much of a priority in my life as I want it to be. I rush, I go to the nearest store, and I grab whatever is on the shelf.

  32. What a great conclusion to this series (which I thoroughly enjoyed and learned a lot from, thanks!)! As a mom with small children I definitely try to buy organic as much as I can but guides helping me to choose which items are more important help a great deal with the budget. I think this blog did a nice job of addressing that, in the end, eating plants & animals, even if conventional, is a whole lot better than what the majority of the others are eating anyway so don’t beat yourself up about it! Just do your best!

  33. My wife and I buy all our vegies from the AWESOME farmers market here in Minneapolis until the end of november (when the darkness descends upon us). We find it far cheaper than buying organic at whole foods or the local coop. We buy seasonally and go home with mountains of vegetables for about $30 per week. I hope other cities have markets that are as good or better. Small towns dont, yet. Best to grow a lot of food if you can! Great column Mark!

  34. I believe organic is the way. I come from a background where everything is natural and organic, as all latina moms that grew up eating healthy everyday. As for the money I spend on organic products, I think is worth it.

  35. Dr. Mercola had some great advice for those of us struggling economically while still trying to do our best to eat as healthy as possible. To paraphrase:

    If you must pick and choose where to spend your money, then focus on Organic/Local meat, dairy and fat (oil).

    MOST pesticides and such are sprayed on fruits and veggies. While not perfect, you can wash off most residue before eating.

    But bio-accumulation of pesticides and anti-biotics in the fat of your animal foods means you cannot “wash” off most of the poisons.

    So if you are on a tight budget, focus your money on organic grass fed butter, yogurt, meat, raw milk, pasture raised eggs and sausages, and just wash your conventional fruits and veggies thoroughly.

  36. Excellent article! I love buying direct from the farmers, and organic ALWAYS tastes so much better! I love how all the sizes and shapes and colors differ when the food is 100% REAL. Will be sharing this on my sites.

  37. Very well presented and to-the-point, Mark. It’s disappointing to see all this negative media coverage about organic food. At least some of us aren’t listening to this crap.

  38. I have a degree in Integrated Horticultural Production from Oregon State University. It is a land grant university and is considered to be amongst the top 10 universities in the US for agriculture. According to the curriculum:

    1. organic farmers make higher margins for their organic produce vs conventional
    2. there are no actual controlled studies demonstrating a difference in nutrient content of organic vs conventional when fertility is properly managed
    3. many OMRI products are manufactured in ways that are substantially similar to synthetic products and are actually synthetically produced (pyrethrins is a good example)
    4. organic agriculture requires much more energy and human capital
    5. organic agriculture is not additive and is less productive
    6. some organic pesticides are more dangerous than some synthetic pesticides, certification for organic status does not require empirical testing
    7. most pesticides used in conventional vegetable production wash off of the produce
    8. produce from organic production comes with substantially elevated risks of pathogenic bacterial exposure from improperly prepared manures and composts
    9. many organic fertilizers actually contain high levels of things like Mercury, Lead, Arsenic, and Cadmium and when applied as needed result in 10-20x greater accumulations in the soil
    10. many organic fertilizers are mined the same as any conventional fertilizer (fossilized guano, rock phosphate, and humic acid for example)

    Who wants to enter a contest with me? I will grow conventional and the competitor will grow organic. We will grow multiple crops. The produce will be analyzed for pesticides, minerals and phytonutrients by a laboratory since I will not trust hearsay to prove anything.

    Oh, and one more thing. “Farmers in many countries, including the United States, have lower overall death rates and cancer rates than the general population.” Most farmers actually live literally next to fields that are routinely sprayed. They breath air with pesticide vapors and live in areas covered in residues. Their pesticide exposure rates can easily be assumed to be over 10x that of the standard population. Even in cases where singular pesticides were considered, the increase in disease probability want enough to establish cause.

    http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/ahs

    Most cancer is related to the genotype of the individual who has the cancer (cancer studies are conducted on special rodent lines because wild rats are not prone to any specific outcome with respect to cancer, same goes for drugs). People live twice as long as they used to on average. Why does anyone expect less cancer as a result of longer life expectancy? Also, many foods are riddled with so called carcinogens-all cured meats, smoked foods, bbq, coffee, cheese, beer, etc…

  39. What a refreshing and balanced report. I have been so turned off by the constant braying and “sucking the joy” out of everything that I normally just whiz by any article with the words “health” or “veggies” in it. To not be able to enjoy a piece of cake, to monitor a lovely stroll with a silly “step” calculator strapped to your arm, to fuss over s ingle holiday feat completely turns me off. I lived in India for twenty years where the problems may not have been organic versus non-organic … but real life-threatening diseases. Here we have so much of everything, we don’t see or appreciate any ore. And there seems to be a hwole segment of our society bent on making ourselves miserable.

    Thank YOU. Moderation and enjoyment are the keys. You are a breath of fresh air!

  40. The zucchini was over double the price at our local stand. Lamenting my plants that had died just before fruiting, the old woman there gave me her secret: mothballs! I passed.