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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Confused About "ORGANIC" Bunky?!

You're not alone; many people are confused and hopefully I won't add to your brain puzzle over the term "organic".  Why am I devoting all of this time to this subject?  I have heard disappointment come out of the mouths of people who went to their first famers market, bought "organic" and found the food to be flavorless.  They have said it was a not worth the money or the bother to buy "organic" and decided not to return to any famers markets.

As backyard farmers who even grow ornamentals using organic methods, I think that organic = flavor unfortunate is an example of misinformation.   1 eager but misinformed eater + 1 misinformed or misrepresenting seller (restauranteur, farmer, etc) = disappointment.  I hope to have a positive impact on that disappointment and bring the joy of shopping, preparing and eating back into confused consumers' lives.  Spring markets will soon be in full swing and I don't want you to miss out on any delicious foods because of misunderstanding.

Strictly speaking organic food is produced without using harmful or toxic pesticides, sewage sludge or petroleum-based synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from not-cloned animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.   For further clarification of this take a look at this poster:


In another nutshell "organic" refers to how a plant is grown.  In the USA the USDA regulates the right to say who is an organic grower, what has been "organically" grown and which foods may carry the "organic" label.  The USDA has third parties who may certify, like CCOF.  Only farmers whose lands have been certified (or are legally exempt ) may use the term "organic".  If the term "organic" is used you should feel free to ask for clarification.  When a grower has been certified organic they must prominently post such for their customers to see.  If you are interested in a local certified organic grower check out Maya's Farm at http://www.mayasfarm.com  Maya is a CCOF certified organic grower of vegetables, herb ad flowers.  Her food is organic and delicious.  She has a CSA for those who love to eat organic but don't grow it themselves.

If a plant has not been certified to be "organic", it might be "conventionally" grown and it might not.  There are the many small scale and backyard farmers who are exempt and may not use conventional methods and do use organic methods but have not been certified as an organic grower.   They may have flavorful, nutritional food with little to no chemicals touching their soil or plants.

Many growers fall somewhere in between the USDA Certified Organic and the "conventional.  Can they use terms like "almost organic"or "have applied for organic certification".  No, that is considered misleading.   Or how about "better than organic".   No,...what does "better" mean anyway?  At this point in time the USDA does not consider "organic" to be a "better" product just a different product from conventionally grown.

The assumption made at the beginning of this post was that all organic food means more flavor.  Maybe.  Maybe not.

These onions we grew last year were sweet and never made anyone cry.  Not hot, no bite just sweet onion flavor.  And we happen to use organic methods and we are exempt but we do not call our foods "organic" but that is not the whole story to  the Tre Soli goodness.  Nutrition and flavor can be enhanced by both organic and conventional methods.  These characteristics are due to many things such as weather, soil, genetics and water, as well as nearby plants.  We can alter the weather's impact even though we can't impact the actual weather.  Did you know that Carrots Love Tomatoes?  Yes they do flavor and nutrition can be improved by planting the right plants together and it's a book too!   So if you want to know more about companion planting seek out that book by Louise Riotte.  Planting things with their companions can enhance flavor, yield and disease resistance.

Soil can be enhanced to provide more flavor, yield and disease resistance while using organic methods.  Genetics is up to the big guys, but it too can impact all of the characteristics noted.  Here at Tre Soli we never knowingly plant genetically modified seeds or plants.  Water can also be impacted by additions to and/or filtering of the water.  This too can be done using organic methods as we do at Tre Soli.  Knowing your farmer's growing methods  will tell you much more that any label.

And since tomato season is just around the bend for us in the desert, 
here's to your best flavored tomatoes ever grown or purchased!

PS  From the Mayo Clinic we have a nice tidy summary of some of the key differences between organic and conventional growing.

Apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth.Apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost, to feed soil and plants.
Spray synthetic insecticides to reduce pests and disease.Spray pesticides from natural sources; use beneficial insects and birds, mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease.
Use synthetic herbicides to manage weeds.Use environmentally-generated plant-killing compounds; rotate crops, till, hand weed or mulch to manage weeds.
Give animals antibiotics, growth hormones and medications to prevent disease and spur growth.Give animals organic feed and allow them access to the outdoors. Use preventive measures — such as rotational grazing, a balanced diet and clean housing — to help minimize disease.

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