Organic Pesticides

(This is the next post in my “Organic” series. If you missed the first one, you can find it here.)

It may surprise you to learn that organic farmers use pesticides. The only difference is that, for the most part, their pesticides must derive from natural sources rather than a laboratory. Does this make them safer than synthetic ones?

Consider—copper sulfate, an organic pesticide allowed by the USDA, is more toxic than some synthetic pesticides; an overdose can cause anemia, liver disease, mutations and cancer. Arsenic is a natural substance, but is so toxic that it is banned by the USDA for use on organic crops. Nicotine-derived pesticides, another group of natural chemicals, are also considered too dangerous for use by organic farmers.

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To Everything There is a Season

The green, slimy mass lurched at me from the bottom of the crisper drawer. I fended it off with a dish rag while rescuing the still-edible produce piled on top. Rats. Those green beans (or was it the chard?) looked so great when I bought them—I hated for them to go to waste.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes produce seems to spoil right away, while other times it seems to last a few days in the fridge? To some extent, it’s the nature of that particular vegetable. Some kinds just last longer than others. But that’s not the whole story. I find that produce purchased out of season just doesn’t keep as long, probably because it had so far to go to get here in the first place.

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Budgeting Your Organic Dollars

There are two piles of apples in the produce section of my market. The first, at $2 per pound, are grown conventionally. The other pile, at twice the price, have been grown organically. Which apples should I buy?

Every time I go to the market, I have to make the decision whether or not to buy organic. If my food budget was unlimited, it would be easy. Organic farming is better for the planet. It’s better for the field workers. And it’s better for the consumer. But organic food is also more expensive. Given that our family is on a strict food allowance, I need some sort of criteria to help me decide when to spend extra and when to buy the cheapest available.

Happily, a bit of searching came up with a list of commonly purchased food items, and their average pesticide load when grown by conventional farmers. You can find it at the Environmental Working Group’s website.

Seeing that apples score among the highest produce items for pesticide load, I’ll definitely spring for the organic ones. Onions and peas, however, are traditionally grown without a lot of spraying, so I’ll stick to the cheapest ones I can find.

I think I’ll print out this list and stick it in my wallet for my next trip to the market.