Co-Founder and Chief Garden-Keeper, Nature’s Path
Co-Founder and CEO, Amy’s Kitchen
Bhakti Chai, Founder
Crofter’s Organic, President
President and CEO of Clover Organic Farms.
CEO of Jacobs Farms / DelCabo
Mediaplanet: For those on a budget, what is the cheapest way to incorporate an organic lifestyle?
Arran Stephens: We need to consider the true cost to our health and our planet from modern chemical agriculture and subsidized commercial fast food. To offset the initial higher cost of organic foods, prepare your own meals as much as possible and rediscover the joy of home cooking—we sometimes forget that dining out is more costly. Try going meatless one day a week, or more. You can have complete nutrition from interesting combinations of plant proteins like beans, seeds or tofu with fiber-rich whole grains, while saving on the high environmental and dollar cost of meat. Make sure to look for organic options, especially when cooking with tofu and corn. Shopping at local farmer’s markets, wholesale clubs, growing your own, or buying in bulk also reduces costs. Buy fresh and seasonal produce by the case at big discounts and then freeze or refrigerate for later use.
Andy Berliner: Just start small, with the basics. A perfect first step is to choose organic for your weekly fresh vegetables at your local grocer or farmer’s market. I’m a big fan of getting your food farmer-direct. I see a lot of hope in the rise of farmer’s markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)—it’s helping connect more people to their food. Of course, growing your own is the most satisfying way to go organic and reconnect to where food really comes from. Rachel, my wife, grew up in an urban area, but her mother still grew organic food in their small backyard. Now Rachel keeps a garden patch at our house—the huge Brussels sprouts she grows are wonderful to see and eat. If you need to cut back, you might want to cut back on something else rather than on your family’s health…Maybe that bag of potato chips? Or box of cookies?
Brook Eddy: Most national retailers now offer their own private label brand of organic products, which can be a 20%-50% savings. Identify non negotiable foods like dairy, meats, and certain fruits and vegetable more heavily laden with pesticides. For example, apples, grapes, lettuce, and strawberries are just a few that one should also buy as organic. While those lowest in pesticides like avocado, cabbage, onions, and mushrooms could be purchased as conventional. An organic lifestyle may not mean every purchase is certified organic, but that in reading labels, most of the ingredients are organic and some top priority items are organic.
Gerhard Latka: Enjoying an organic lifestyle on a budget is something Crofter’s Organic has encouraged since our establishment 24 years ago by providing families with an affordable organic fruit spread. There are many ways to be thrifty and organic. The same principles of buying in bulk, looking for sales, and preparing foods yourself, and even growing your own food still apply. Begin by prioritizing which products you consider most important to make the organic switch, and gradually incorporate more organic options as your budget allows. Resources like the EWG 2013 Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ lists the Dirty Dozen Plus™, and Clean Fifteen™ and can help you make informed choices about which fruits and vegetables are most important to start buying organic to avoid pesticides.
Marcus Benedetti: Parents are often struggling with what they want to feed their kids vs. what they can afford to feed their kids. Organic is great, but not always affordable. However, organic dairy products are a great gateway into organic because children consume milk and other dairy products in such volume that is makes sense to go organic. Multiple studies have been done to suggest that organic milk is the one product parents shouldn’t compromise with their children’s diet because of the possible synthetic hormones that might be present in non-organic milk.
In addition, organic milk is a nutrient dense food vs. other costly organic beverages. It has the added benefits of calcium for building strong bones, vitamins for overall health and protein which is essential for a balanced diet.
Keeping the budget in mind, it’s helpful to shop the perimeter of the store.
That is where you’ll find the fresh veggies and fruit; bulk bins for rice, cereals, trail mixes, dried fruits, etc; the dairy department and the meat counter. By avoiding the center isles with pre-packaged foods, you’ll be saving more.
Larry Jacobs: On a budget, buy smart but remember what we eat is more important than choosing a smart phone. Some tips:
- Plant your own garden. Discover and explore the incredible beauty and mystery of soils, plants, fungi, insects and birds.
- Watch for ads. When the weather is right our harvest goes up and we promote ads to our retailers. This is our way of sharing natures bounty.
- Favor in season fruits and vegetables. That's when they grow best and closest to home.
- Compare prices. Farmer markets and neighborhood markets have different costs and markups. It pays to check.
- Beware of "cheap" food.
MP: What do you consider to be the biggest misconception associated with the organic movement?
AS: There are several misconceptions associated with the organic movement. With food labels ranging from “natural” to “Non-GMO” and “Organic,” it is easy to understand why consumers get confused in the grocery aisle. Products bearing natural claims have no clear definitions, no regulations and no oversight. “Natural” has become the meaningless word in the dictionary. Products with the USDA Organic seal are regulated and must meet strict government standards. To be certified organic, the food must be grown without toxic synthetic pesticides and herbicides, GMOs, antibiotics or artificial growth hormones for a period of at least three years. Organic remains the safest and best choice and it helps protect the environment too.
AB: There are many misconceptions. One of the bigger ones is that organic farming is “old fashioned”— and that it cannot feed everyone. We cannot afford to keep thinking that chemicals and GMOs offer viable solutions. We need to think about the long-term effects of conventional farming on soil and water. And I’m especially concerned about the farmers—what about their health and safety?
The only way forward is with a sustainable model, such as current organic agriculture, which combines knowledge from traditional methods with our contemporary, scientific understandings of soil science. It recognizes the importance of living, vital soil as the basis for healthy plant life, which is essential to create a truly sustainable organic agriculture—one that can feed the world.
BE: There's still seems to be an undercurrent of doubt that consuming and supporting conventional products doesn't really effect your health or the environment. The truth is, studies illustrate that eating conventionally grown foods will expose the average adult to between six and twelve pesticides each day - and children are even more susceptible. There's also now a growing body of support to indicate that organic foods brings more nutrition, as organic fruits and vegetable have higher antioxidants and are more nutritious.
While the misconceptions around the environment continue to cloud political action, contaminated soil, air, or drinking water from persistent pesticides does and will effect the health of our communities.
GL: The biggest misconception is that the benefits of organic products do not outweigh the extra cost. It’s understandable that for the average consumer the higher cost of organics can be difficult to justify, but choosing organic is about more than just choosing a better, or more nutritious product that does not contain artificial ingredients, pesticide or herbicide residues or GMO’s. It’s important in all areas of life to look beyond the price tag, and perceive the true cost of what we spend our dollars on. By choosing organic, consumers support sustainable agriculture practices and the health of our global environment. For example, Crofter’s low sugar fruit spreads are a more nutritious choice, but our sustainable sourcing practices benefit more than just your health. The fair trade cane sugar in our Premium Spreads is sourced from The Green Cane Project in Brazil, improving both the environment and the social conditions for workers. The more consumers educate themselves the more value they will see in choosing organics as it relates to both their personal health and that of the global environment.
MB: At Clover we feel the biggest misconception about organic is that it is all about the end product, ie no pesticides, or synthetic hormones. But organic is not just about the food, but rather it’s about a holistic approach to a food system. It starts with the way the land and animals are treated, how the farmers are compensated and the culmination of those being done right is a great organic product to eat. Using Clover as an example we’re a three generation family owned company in Petaluma (Sonoma County), we work with small family-owned dairy producers in our backyard of Sonoma and Marin County. Our organic producers work their land using sustainable farming practices because they know they will be working that land for generations to come. They have small herd sizes because they know that works best with their land. The treatment of the cows is certified by the American Humane Certified program to ensure a healthy and happy lifestyle for the animals. As a result of all of this we pay the dairy producers a premium to produce superior quality organic milk for us. This holistic approach to farming is what makes organic farming sustainable.
LJ: Mexican grown can't be organic - For years small scale farmers in Mexico couldn't afford chemical pesticides and fertilizers. They were organic by default. Today, food grown by Del Cabo farmers in carries the USDA Certified Organic seal because it complies with strict regulations and passes annual audits by USDA accredited certifiers. Farmers and companies committed to growing food organically are inspected under the same criteria regardless of country. Thanks to growing consumer demand more and more farmers and more and more land world wide is farmed organically. That's good news and means less toxic chemicals contaminating soils, evaporating into the air we breath and finding their way into the water we drink. Certified Organic has no boundaries. To think that food grown in Mexico can't be organic is no more true than believing the earth is flat.
Conventionally grown food is just as safe as organic - We can debate the safety of food with low residue levels of pesticides and the impact of chemical fertilizer run off but the ONLY food produced with strict requirements that are third party audited by USDA accredited certifiers to assure what you eat is grown in a way that is healthy for soil, plants and people is CERTIFIED ORGANIC. Certified Organic is our only guarantee that the food we eat is produced in compliance with clearly defined rules and rigorous annual inspections. It is the only system that eliminates the use of toxic pesticides and decreases exposure to toxic chemicals to ourselves, our family and our environment.
Organic can't feed the world - The alternative is perpetuating a system that indiscriminately contaminates our air, water and soil. As we tease out the mechanisms that nature evolved over millions of years to protect plants from insects and insects from insects we learn more effective strategies to grow food without chemical inputs. A great example is the "hot" sensation you taste when you put mustard on a hot dog. The "hot" are glucosinolates that mustard plants use to protect themselves from plant feeding insects. Today we're using the meal made from mustard seeds as a soil amendment to eliminate plant feeding nematodes, small worm-like critters that reduce crop yields. With good science and "tricks" from nature, we are getting yields as good as any conventional grower with Del Cabo cherry tomatoes. There is no reason this can't be replicated with all important food crops.
MP: What can consumers do to ensure they are not consuming GMO’s?
AS: We avoid GMOs when we buy USDA Organic, since GMOs are not allowed in Organic. Next would be products bearing the Non-GMO Project Verified seal, which means that these products have been rigorously tested for GMOs, and are in compliance with the Project’s standards. But unless they are also organic, they are probably grown with toxic inputs. At Nature’s Path, all of our products are both organic and Non-GMO Project Verified. Organic is the gold standard, which I believe is the first consideration.
AB: We all need to educate ourselves about these new food technologies. Thankfully, most fresh fruits and vegetables are not GMO. The most important thing to know is which conventionally grown crops are predominately GMO now: corn, soy, canola, and sugar beets. Read labels and try to avoid these ingredients. Organic agriculture prohibits the use of GMOs, so organic is always the best choice – especially for these four crops.
While there are only four major GMO crops, these are key ingredients in many packaged foods, and it can be a challenge to avoid them. We live inside the US food and agriculture system, where these crops predominate – so total avoidance or exposure is probably not possible under present conditions. This is one of the reasons to support GMO labeling initiatives. Consumers have a right to know what they’re eating and make their own food choices. We need to start educating ourselves so we can have a voice in the future of our food system - and help decide where it goes from here.
BE: Purchase products with the NonGmo verified seal, frequent local farmers' markets, and research high risk and low risk GMO products. Similar to organic, there are higher risk foods and those that are cleaner. Also, avoid heavy GMO ingredients that are laced in most processed foods - like high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, and natural flavorings.
Consumers can also get involved to support mandatory labeling efforts around the country. The savvy chemical companies and bio tech industry have worked tirelessly to ensure they will not be branded with GMO warning labels - but citizens and natural retailers are fighting back with the "right to know" and "just label it" campaigns to let consumers know what's in their food and protect the food supply. 64 countries require labeling of genetically engineered foods - so with enough momentum and education, hopefully the U.S. will join other developed countries in mandatory labeling.
GL: To avoid GMO’s consumers should look for the Non-GMO Project Verified label. Although GMO’s are not permitted in organic products, many consumers are not aware of the organic standards, and there is still a risk of cross-contamination from GMO’s, mainly for single ingredients (e.g., crops). The Non-GMO Project is North America’s only third party verification for products produced according to rigorous best practices for avoidance of GMO’s. I believe the consumer should have the right to know what is in their food. Crofter’s Organic enrolled in the Non-GMO Project in 2011 and all our fruit spread labels proudly display the seal.
MB: Buy organic! Under the USDA NOP (National Organic Program) an organic product cannot contain GMOs. Furthermore, organic certification is process based. That means that certifying agents must validate the ability for organic operations to follow a set of production standards and practices which meet the requirements of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and the NOP regulations. For dairy that means that the farms must have verifiable practices in place to avoid contact with GMOs. The cows can only eat organic feed, and if that animal gets sick it must be treated with holistic medicine vs. antibiotics. In addition to buying organic you can look for the Non GMO Verified logo which means that a company would have to go through a third party verification process to assure their product does not contain GMOs. Clover is currently working on implementing the Non GMO Verified program into our organic dairy products.
LJ: Today there is only one way to be sure you are not eating GMO foods: Buy CERTIFIED ORGANIC.