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To Organic or Not to Organic? That is the Question

Organic or not to organic - cooking with miss katie
To many, the word “organic” is a controversial one, stirring up strong opinions (both positive and negative). Parents are often left thinking, “What exactly makes organic food different?” and, “Are the benefits of feeding my child organic food really worth the extra cost of the food itself?”

To start, let’s look at what the USDA officially says about the meaning of the organic food label:

USDA certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible (www.usda.gov).

In short, produce that is grown organically has a government stamp of approval saying that it has been grown without chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. This doesn’t mean you need to dole out the big bucks and buy everything with an organic label, however. In my humble opinion, buying organic animal proteins, eggs and dairy is fairly important when possible. When it doesn’t fit the budget, however, buying these products from a local farm (via a local farmer’s market), buying “grass-fed,” or “cage-free” are fine (less expensive) alternatives. As for produce, I believe there are three factors to consider:

  • The EWG (Environmental Working Group) “Dirty Dozen”: These types of fruits and vegetables have higher amounts of pesticides when not grown organically, and have higher risk of chemical consumption. This list includes: apples, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, grapes, celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, snap peas, and potatoes.
  • The EWG “Clean Fifteen”: These types of fruits and vegetables may be grown with pesticides, but either have a thick protective skin that protects the edible part inside, or the amount of pesticides consumed when eaten is substantially lower than in the “dirty dozen” produce. This list includes: avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, sweet peas (frozen), onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwi, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower, and sweet potatoes.
  • Locally Farmed Foods with Organic Quality: In order for a farm to obtain a government organic certification, farmers must go through an extremely daunting and often expensive process. It involves providing proof that every single aspect of a farm, from the history of the soil to the history of any suppliers used, follows the constantly evolving organic regulations of the USDA. If a farm is a small, family-owned business, they may not have the money, time or manpower to obtain and maintain an organic certification. Furthermore, if they do obtain and maintain a certification, the extra cost will need to be passed on to their customers. A farmer may, however, still grow organic-quality produce without chemical pesticides. In NYC, we there are a plethora of high-quality farmer’s markets. Next time you find yourself in one, ask a farm employee at your favorite produce stand about how they grow their fruits and vegetables. You may find that you can buy organic quality food for non-organic prices.

 

Do you have a question for Katie, or something you’d like to share with the River School community on the blog? Feel free to email her at kidslearn@theriverschool.com!

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