A Guide to Shopping Organic

A Guide to Shopping Organic

Recent years have seen an explosion in organic food and products. The word organic is everywhere from grocery stores to coffee shops to furniture stores. But what does that label really mean and how can we be sure that we’re really shopping responsibly?

What does it mean for something to be organic?
Organic veggies

Organic veggies are better for you!

When a food item is labeled as organic that means it was produced using environmentally responsible farming techniques. For agriculture products like fruits, vegetables, and cotton, this means they were grown without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or the use of genetically modified organisms. These farms also work to minimize their impact on the surrounding ecosystem by disposing of waste properly, preventing erosion, and using water wisely. You’ll often hear this system referred to as sustainable agriculture because it replaces short-term, man-made farming techniques with long-term, natural biological processes. For example, rotating a variety of crops through a field will help maintain soil fertility without the use of fertilizers, and mulch can be used in the place of herbicides.

Organically produced meat will follow similar guidelines. Animals raised for meat, dairy, or eggs are not dosed with growth hormones or antibiotics and will have been fed organically grown feed and will have spent at least part of their lives in an uncrowded, outdoor space. Organic animal farms must also monitor resource use and ensure waste is disposed of in a manner that avoids disrupting the surrounding natural systems. Not only does all this mean a happier life for the animals, but it also means that the food on your table is free from man-made chemicals.

How can I tell if what I’m buying is organic?

The USDA regulates the use of the term organic on food labels, and anything carrying the USDA seal will have been certified as meeting the standards listed above. This label can be found on whole foods like fruits and vegetables and on processed products like cereals, sauces, and wine. Only processed products containing 100% organic ingredients will carry the USDA seal. Any processed food using over 70% organic ingredients is allowed to be labeled as “containing organic ingredients,” while processed items with less than 70% organic ingredients may only use the word organic on the ingredients list.

One of the best ways to buy organic is at local markets, but it’s still always a good idea to research where your food is coming from. USDA standards don’t apply to farms with less than $5,000 in annual organic sales, which means that, while local growers and farmers’ markets can be your best source for organic, sustainable food, you’ll want to check to make sure these farms are living up to their claims.

Will buying organic really make a difference?

In short: yes. Industrial agriculture operations are incredibly damaging to the environment. They create huge amounts of chemical runoff and greenhouse gas emissions and destroy surrounding soil and water systems. When you buy organic, you’re helping to put a stop to these practices and telling companies you support eco-friendly farming methods.

Grow Organic!

Grow Organic!

Organic food can also be better for you. Industrially produced foods make their way to you covered in pesticides and other chemicals designed to enhance appearance and shelf-life. When you buy organic you’re getting food that is free from these dangerous, synthetic chemicals. And learning to shop organic and local is a great way to introduce variety into your diet. Instead of using the same handful of fruits and vegetables your grocery store carries year-round, you can make your meals more nutritious by using a mix of seasonal produce. When you take the time to shop organic you – and the environment – will benefit.

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