Thursday, January 30, 2014

12 Foods to Buy Organic... or Grow!

Every year I look forward to browsing the seed catalogs and ordering my garden seeds.  There's so much to choose from! It takes me several evenings of browsing to settle on the varieties that will work best in my garden; sometimes they are old favorites (Beef-Master tomatoes are the staple of my canned salsa) and sometimes we try something new (we're giving Kandy Korn sweet corn a spin in the garden this year).

I'm also trying to focus on organically growing the fruits and veggies that are traditionally the most heavily contaminated by pesticides.  The Environmental Working Group estimates that if we choose organically-grown produce for the top 12 pesticide culprits, we will reduce our pesticide exposure by 80%!  This is not only better for consumers, but better for the environment and farmers.  If I can grow some of it myself, I can also save substantial money and reduce the packaging and emissions involved in buying from a grocery store.



For this summer, I have enough seed to grow and preserve a lot of our produce through the off-season.  I dried and saved seeds from a few plants, such as green beans and pumpkins, so I didn't need to buy any.  (Saving the seeds from hybrids often produces lower quality plants, so I don't bother with those.) For the rest, I ordered from catalogs.  My girls are a bit picky with their veggies, but they do love broccoli and corn so I got plenty of those.  I can my own tomato-corn salsa, which is a family favorite and I get many requests for, so good crops of tomatoes, peppers, corn, and cilantro are essential.  (I actually developed the recipe one year when I had so much corn and tomatoes that I didn't know what to do with it!)  I ordered seeds for red Hubbard winter squash, which we have never tried, but was praised in the catalog for being a good keeper through the winter.  For the rest, we have three chest freezers that we can fill.  Our orchard, which we planted last year with a variety of fruit trees and bushes, is still a year or two away from producing much.  I hope our row of thornless blackberries will give us some, though.  For meat, we had our own pasture-raised beef cattle and have stocked our freezers as well as gave a lot away to family.  Cattle isn't something we're going to do again, but when we need meat we will definitely be making a bulk purchase from one of the local pasture-raised beef farms.  Grass-fed beef is much healthier with lower chemical residues, less fat, higher omega-3 fatty acids, and is just a more humane way of raising cattle.

Every year, EWG tests produce and comes up with their "Dirty Dozen" of the most contaminated, which for that reason are important to buy organic rather than conventional.

1. APPLES:  Apples are attacked by a variety of pests and problems, so are at the top of the list of highly-contaminated by pesticides.  Peeling can help a little, but it also strips away most of the healthy fiber.  My grocery store carries both bagged organic apples (which are smaller and often have some blemishes) and individual apples; go for the pre-bagged as they cost only slightly more than conventional apples, while individual apples can be quite expensive.

2. CELERY

3. TOMATOES

4. CUCUMBERS

5. GRAPES

6. HOT PEPPERS:  We've grown great hot pepper crops and have had a lot of luck with drying them in a dehydrator.

7. NECTARINES (Imported)

8. PEACHES: Peach trees mature quickly and can produce a lot of fruit, which can be canned or frozen.  I knew a man who planted a large peach orchard just off the pits he saved.

9. POTATOES:  Unfortunately, potatoes absorb pesticides in the soil as they grow, so peeling won't help.  While growing, plants are sprayed heavily for potato beetles and other pests, and then the potatoes are sprayed with anti-sprouting chemicals after harvest.  Bagged organic potatoes are not that much more expensive.  They are also fun to grow in the garden and will store for a while in a root cellar.

10. SPINACH

11. STRAWBERRIES:  Strawberry plants multiply quickly.  I started with 3 plants and, a few years later, was pulling plants out of the lawn to give away.  Local organic Pick-Your-Own farms are also a fun time.  We pick enough to freeze.

12. SWEET BELL PEPPERS:  Easy to grow.  I cut them up and freeze, then grab a handful when I need them.

Also... KALE, COLLARD GREENS, and SUMMER SQUASH are considered highly contaminated.


LOW-CONTAMINATION PRODUCE:
The EWG has also developed a list of the produce which has low contamination.  These often have thick skins which are not eaten, like pineapples and grapefruit, or are naturally pest-resistant, like onions.
1. Asparagus
2. Avocados
3. Cabbage
4. Cantaloupe
5. Sweet corn
6. Eggplant
7. Grapefruit
8. Kiwi
9. Mangoes
10. Mushrooms
11. Onions
12. Papayas
13. Pineapples
14. Sweet Peas (frozen)
15. Sweet Potatoes


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