Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Organic 101

 I would love to grow my own fruits and vegetables all year long...canning and safely preserving all my family's produce...shelling beans on the front porch while sipping sweet tea...  That would be the 100% way to make sure your produce is pesticide free, right? But I haven't seemed to morph into Martha Stewart and the only method of preserving I know is clean, peel, chop, freezer bag (I will learn how to can this summer!). So until my own personal produce farm and greenhouse develops, I follow these guidelines and shop at Kroger:

The Dirty Dozen & the Clean Fifteen

     Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a list of the 12 types of produce that contain the highest levels of pesticides. These are the fruits and veggies you want to get organic whenever possible. What is the harm in pesticides? Is is really worth buying organic produce? In many studies, pesticide exposure has been  linked to multiple health problems such as birth defects, cancers, and neurological disorders (more on this topic in a future post). 

     Just because plums, for example, aren't on the dozen list, doesn't mean they are "safe" (whatever that means in today's food industry). It only means their pesticide level was less than the top 12. Think about it this way - the more fragile fruits tend to get sprayed more in order to make it half way across the country in a truck and then look pretty and shiny in the grocery store. Produce gets sprayed while growing and then again after being picked in order to last and look good. This is another great reason to buy from local farmers! 

     Some things are not a huge difference in price from the non-organic while others can get pretty pricey. I like to stick to this list as to what I will buy organic but to keep costs down, I usually only buy what's in season. Strawberries are about 5.99 a pint this time of year (around 2.50-2.99 in the summer) so this is a fruit you will NOT see in my shopping cart any time soon! Also, as discussed in the previous paragraph, organic produce tends to not have as long of a shelf life as non organic. Keep this in mind with the amount of produce you purchase at a time so that your trash doesn't end up eating organic too.
     Below is the 2011 "Dirty Dozen" list. I've included the typical price range for the items at Kroger grocery stores in the Central Virginia area:
  1. Apples (on sale, 1.49-1.99/lb)
  2. Celery (Occasionally $1/bunch, typically $2-3/bunch)
  3. Strawberries (see above)
  4. Peaches (in season, same price as apples)
  5. Spinach ($5-$6 for a large box in the salad section - good to use for salads for a few days then cook and freeze the rest for a casserole, soup, etc)
  6. Nectarines (around 2.99ish/lb)
  7. Imported Grapes (1.99-2.99 in season)
  8. Sweet bell peppers (usually pricey! Typically around $3+/each)
  9. Potatoes (Russets usually run 1.99-2.99 for a 3lb bag, these keep well in the fridge for a couple weeks)
  10. Domestic blueberries (pricey! $4-5+ for small, 4oz container)
  11. Lettuce (2.99/three heads of Romaine; 1.99+/head of iceburg)
  12. Kale/Collard Greens (around 2.99/lb)  
 Apples were found to be very high in pesticides. These are my girls with the apples we picked at a local orchard last fall. This is a great way to get fruit in the fall season! It was a lot of fun too (don't they look thrilled?).

Because organic does tend to be more expensive, I would rather not spend the extra money on something organic when the non organic variety is very low in pesticide levels. For example, I never buy a $5 org. cantaloupe in the summer. I get a regular one and wash it well before cutting it up. The "Clean Fifteen" list helps you to know what foods are safer as far as having the lowest pesticide levels:
  1. Onions
  2. Sweet corn (Note: much of today's corn seeds, used to feed livestock as well as for human consumption, are Genetically Modified [GMO] - post to come on this issue!)
  3. Pineapple
  4. Avocado
  5. Asparagus 
  6. Sweet Peas
  7. Mangoes
  8. Eggplant
  9. Domestic Cantelope
  10. Kiwi
  11. Cabage
  12. Watermelon
  13. Sweet Potato 
  14. Grapefruit
  15. Mushrooms
 Most grocery stores have organic produce clearly marked but another way to check is on the PLU code; most organic produce begins with 9 or 94. And there you go! I hope this helps on your next shopping trip to keep the pesticides in your cart, and on your table, to a bare minimum!



  1. I love this new blog, I just got a google account so I can comment, lol :) I made soup yesterday with tomatoes from a paper carton, rainbow chard (organic) and I acutally soaked the beans rather than getting canned :) There were some other ingredients, like onions and garlic (glad to see onions on the "clean 15") I also used organic chicken broth. It tasted yummy and so glad it's good for you! :) Thanks for inspiring me!!

  2. That is so great LeeAnn!!! Sounds tasty AND healthy!