The USDA Organic label found on an increasing number of foods today holds quite a bit of weight. It indicates that the food producer has gone through an extensive certification process in order to show that their product meets certain qualifications. Consumers use the label as verification that their purchase is free from synthetic pesticides, toxic herbicides and GMO’s, and has been grown in a way that is supportive of natural ecological cycles.
Soils for organic plants can only be treated with approved, organic fertilizers. Weeds and pests must be dealt with mechanically or biologically. If pesticides or herbicides are used, they must come from a specific list of approved substances. Organically labeled animal products have additional specifications. A requirement of living conditions is that they should resemble the natural environment of the animal – time outdoors is essential as is organic feed.
Even with such stringent guidelines, American consumers in general – and Alaskan consumers in particular – can do better. First of all, most of the large organic companies grow their products in California, Mexico or South America. While the foods themselves may be lower in toxins, the environmental toxic burden of shipping produce by air is immense.
Additionally, the nutrient profile of foods is time-dependent – nutrients are depleted daily after harvesting. The more travel time a food requires, the less nutrient dense it will be, and the less your body will get out of it by the time it makes it to your plate.
The better choice – both in and out of Alaska – is to buy local. Even though many Alaskan food producers do not abide by organic practices, reasons abound why their products are superior to even certified organic products.
Michelle Olsen of Tower Ranch in Palmer got started in small-scale ranching after developing allergies to conventionally raised beef and pork. She raises lambs for wool and meat at her valley ranch. She ensures that her animals spend a majority of their in the pasture feeding on grass. Supplemental feed comes from Delta Junction. The same can be said of her chickens. The birds eat a corn and soy free diet as close to organic as possible.
The benefits of choosing meats that have been raised with such care are many. Olsen has observed that she – along with others experiencing animal food allergies – can consume these kinds of properly raised products without an issue.
In addition, the freshness of local foods is unparalleled. While it is fairly easy to locate someone who claims they do not care for the taste of lamb, Olsen has a theory about the preference. Such individuals have just never had fresh lamb. Most grocery store lamb is raised in New Zealand, rendering it nearly impossible to experience truly fresh meat. Olsen claims her meat tastes different and lacks any gamey qualities found in other lamb. This author can agree from personal experience that store-bought lamb can sometimes be a surprising gamble.
Another local grower who has possibly been elevated to household-name status is Pam Bue of Pam’s Carrots. While she freely discloses the practice of non-organic methods – such as herbicide application – the risks are very likely outweighed by the additional benefits.
After the vegetables begin to grow, any weeding is done by hand. At this small farm, harvesting and packing are also done manually, which permits the use of the specific carrot species Bue chooses to grow. At a larger farming operation, the particular carrot type would be far too delicate for mechanized harvesting and packing. The carrot variety, along with the ideal Alaskan conditions for raising root vegetables, lends to a far superior product. A simple taste test provides a resounding confirmation.
When faced with the choice of buying fresh foods from a major conventional farm or a major organic farm, choosing organic provides some distinct health benefits – such as lowering the toxic load of your meal, supporting practices which allow animals to lead a more natural life and reducing the chemicals that leach into the water, air and soil. Even these benefits, however, are overshadowed by the gains reaped from buying local. Investing in products that are better in taste, freshness and nutritional profile – as well as better for our local economy and environment – is a win all around.
Do you spend $5 per week on local foods? I bet you can do even better.
Lamb can be ordered from Tower Ranch by emailing [email protected], and Pam’s Carrots are available at local major grocery outlets.
Sara Kennedy is a certified Nutritional Therapy Consultant. She lives fitness, nutrition and wellness – and wants to help save lives and change the world’s view on health and nutrition. Learn more about Sara and her plans at thriveak.com To reach her, email [email protected]