Organic Foods: Fresh Thinking

Organic regulations took effect in 2002. ‘Organic’ produce is grown without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Organic farmers instead use compost to enrich the soil and beneficial insects to kill plant-destroying pests. To use the term organic on their labels, growers must be certified under federal rules.   In general, farmer’s markets and community-supported agricultural programs (CSA’s or produce subscriptions purchased directly from the farms) are closest to the original organic ideal. 


Pesticide-free has no current legal definition, but it may signify an operation that’s in the three year transition to organic status, or one that functions organically but chooses not to be certified. Because organic certification is costly, some farmers don’t bother, even though they practice organic methods. Sustainable generally refers to farming in ways that build the soil, instead of depleting it, and don’t cause pollution. 


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says organic is cleaner but points out that “measured residues on most products, both organic and non-organic, do not exceed government thresholds for safe consumption.” Organic is still more expensive than conventional produce, for the most part because many of the farms are small and the farming methods are labor-intensive. If you have limited dollars to spend, devote them to the EWG’s “dirty dozen” (see below). You can also save by buying conventional varieties of the “clean 15” (see below, and these lists are available at and can be downloaded as an iPhone application). 


Organic is better for the environment because by definition, buying organic means fewer chemicals on the land and in the water and air.   Whether organic produce is more nutritious than conventional remains in dispute, with scientific studies backing both points of view.


Source: Carol Ness


The Clean 15

If you choose to purchase conventional produce, choose the fruits and vegetables with the lowest amount of pesticide residue. This group includes: onions, avocado, corn, pineapples, mangoes, asparagus, sweet peas, kiwifruits, cabbages, eggplants, papayas, watermelons, broccoli, tomatoes, sweet potatoes


The Dirty Dozen

For these varieties, it may be worth seeking out the organics. These fruits and vegetables contain the most pesticide residue: peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, imported grapes, carrots, pears


Source (lists of fruits and vegetables): The Environmental Working Group