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The Truth About Buying & Eating Organic in California

Published on: January 23, 2012     Tags: ,

Photo: Farmers Markets where we’ve seen organic produce include Oakland’s Sunday Certified Farmers Market at Jack London Square (shown).

California leads the way in organic produce and sales, but for the average guy or gal, you’re not necessarily going to find an abundance of organic foods at your local Farmers Market. Only 7% of California organic growers sell their foods direct to the public at roadside stands, U-pick operations and outdoor markets. The majority of organic growers, roughly 81%, sell to wholesalers. 75% of sales to wholesalers are made to a processor, distributor, wholesaler, or broker. 25% are sold to retail chain buyers, other farms, or grower cooperatives.

California produces more than 90% of all U.S. organic sales for over 10 commodities:

  • Organic milk – California is the leading state with $134 million in sales reported from 92 farms.
  • 99% of organic walnuts, lemons, figs and artichokes come from California.
  • 100% of almonds and dates are from California.
  • California’s top 20 organic crops  include grapes, oranges, strawberries,  raspberries,  rice, potatoes, almonds and walnuts, plus 12  vegetable crop.
  • Top 20 organic crops all have over $10 million in sales.
  • Organic lettuce sales are at $175 million (from 190 farms.)
  • Organic grapes are at $111 million (from 525 farms.)
  • Organic lettuce makes up 38% of all sales dollars.
  • Lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, and celery together account for two-thirds of all organic vegetable sales
  • California farms have not produced any organic soybeans, even though this crop had $50 million in sales nationally.

Wouldn’t common sense tell you that you’d rather eat organically grown foods? Would you rather offer your child a strawberry  laced with insecticide in its very cell membranes, or the non insecticide berry with a few spots and blemishes and no chemicals? If you don’t know what “organic” means, then the concept of buying organic products may not make sense (or cents).

There is a federal organic agency operated by the USDA (US Dep’t. of Agriculture) but those who participate in its programs say that guidelines are fuzzy, the promotions weak, and there’s not much to sink your organic apple bite into.  From a financial perspective, the USDA has little incentive to promote “organic”. Their lobbyists and interests primarily involve ConAgra and other conglomerates that look at food as commodities and not as healthy, life-sustaining products.

Organic definition: The USDA defines “organic” as:  Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.

The organic movement has taken root in California and the state has become the leader in organically grown food and crops. The growers have even created their own program to try to move forward with something that organic farmers and the public wants. It’s a grass-roots movement to get to healthy, sustainable living, but the effort takes time.

California organic, support the cause, but don’t be mislead:

  • California Certified Organic Farmers (ccof.org) lists its members with contact information.
  • Encourage local market organizers to seek organic produce sellers and have at least one in their markets.
  • Growers who sell less than $5,000 of products in a year don’t have to pay fees for organic certification.
  • Organic growers complain that competitors with non-organic crops are misleading the public with labeling practices at farmers markets. Don’t be confused by labeling. Certified California Farmers Markets are not assuring that their products are organically grown. They only assure that the food is grown in California.
  • Whole Foods, a popular health food store chain, doesn’t assert that all its fruits & vegetables are non-genetically modified foods. The public may assume the opposite, however. You can read about their policies and discover that just because a store has the name “whole”, that doesn’t equal with “organic  (wholefoodsmarket.com/values/genetically-engineered.php).
  • When you buy “organic” and it says it contains special ingredients and vitamins not found in the other non-organic products, do research to see what it means.  Sometimes the fish oil in organic milk is a result of the cow eating a certain enhanced grain feed, and not the result of the nature of the milk itself.
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