Jun 12, 2010

Buying Quality Food: Beyond certifications

Last year, I read this article by Russ Parsons, a food writer for the LA Times. The idea that just because a food doesn't have the "organic" label doesn't mean it was grown with chemicals, hormones and/or antibiotics was novel to me, but gradually over the last year, it's taken hold in me.

I've discovered that especially at farmer's markets, a lot of the produce that's not certified organic is still grown without chemical fertilizer and pesticides. The farmer I've been buying strawberries from for the past few weeks said that he uses garlic and ladybugs to protect his crop. (And I found a tiny ladybug in the last batch of strawberries that I bought.)

When I first started shopping regularly at farmer's markets, my initial impression was that the produce was more expensive than the supermarket. But compared to the price of organic produce, it's actually cheaper. So I've been buying almost all of my produce at the farmer's market for the last month or so.

And I love it.

The strawberries don't last as long. They're super ripe when I buy them, so they're extra sweet but they need to be eaten quickly. Which is not a problem with the boys and me around. I pay $5 for 3 full pints, a little less than the price of $2.69 for 16 ounces of not-so-sweet organic strawberries at Trader Joe's.

Occasionally, supermarkets will have small avocados on sale for 50 cents, but the usual sale price is 99 cents or $1. Well, the regular price at the farmer's market is $1, and they keep for two or three times as long.

Peaches grown organically but without the official certification are just $2 per pound, a price that's comparable to Trader Joe's if memory serves. Even if they're a bit more expensive, the higher quality and the fact that I'm supporting a local farmer make them worthwhile.

This article at Mark Bittman's blog suggests that I'm on the right track. The article mentions some pig farmers who aren't interested in obtaining the organic certification in part because it would double the price of their pork. But the lack of certification doesn't mean their product isn't high quality.

It's important to me to feed my family - especially my children - organic or at least hormone and antibiotic-free dairy, meat and produce. But now I know not to be so hung up on labels.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Today (Sunday) we went to the Orange County Swapmeet (Marketplace) right before closing (close @ 4). You can get TONS of produce CHEAP! If you have an AYSO card you get in FREE if not it's $2 for adults & kids under 12 free. I scored 10 avocados for $1, 12 6oz pkgs of blackberries for $3.50! HUGE stuffed to the rim bags of green grapes $1, asparagus .25 cents a bunch, bell peppers .25 cents, a huge bag of tomatos for $1. Believe it or not it got even cheaper! One stand lined up HUGE boxes & loaded each one full of everything for $3. Great place to score produce. Dice up bell peppers & onions then freeze for recipes.