Memo to Juan Ponce de Leon: it was in your backyard the whole time. And it’s in your backyard, too. Though it may not look like it now, with the right information and a little sweat equity, your backyard can become a life-giving source of health, restoration and empowerment: a personal Fountain of Youth. An organic vegetable, fruit and herb garden promises everything the Fountain of Youth did, and more.
There was a time, just a couple of generations ago, when all produce grown in the United States was organic by default; synthetically derived fertilizers, fungicides, pesticides and herbicides didn’t arrive on the agriculture scene until after World War II, when the US Government discovered that the petro- and other synthetically derived chemicals developed for military application could also be used to (temporarily) boost crop yields and kill pests and weeds. Since the 1940s, the use of these chemicals in agriculture has been on the rise and traditional, natural farming methods have suffered under the heavy weight of government subsidies to conventional farms for the purchase of chemicals. Not only are these chemicals bad for your health, they carry a gigantic carbon foot print to boot — creating a heavy burden on our Earth. Petrol and natural gas are primary ingredients in many conventional agricultural chemicals, bringing agriculture’s share of the carbon emissions pie to about 9% – and that’s not including all the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the transportation of food from every corner of the earth to your local supermarket.
In the 1980s, a counter-agricultural movement gained momentum in the Pacific states, one that was rooted in a commitment to natural methods without the use of synthetic chemicals. By 1990, the US Government formally recognized the movement’s methods as “organic” and the US Congress passed the Organic Food Production Act. The Act established the National Organic Standards Board, which was charged with developing regulations and enforcement procedures for all agricultural products labeled “organic.” In 2002 the regulations went into effect; so when you see a food product labeled “certified organic,” it means something quantifiable and regulated by the USDA. But beyond that, it means healthier food for both you and the environment — not adulterated by synthetic chemicals or genetically modification (although naturally-derived pesticides, fertilizers and insecticides are allowed in organic agriculture).
“I’d like some fresh strawberries topped with organophosphates, please.”
Consider this: every time you consume conventional produce and food products, you’re actually consuming trace amounts of chemical residues, some of which have been linked to chronic diseases like cancer and asthma. Many of these chemical are toxins that accumulate in your fat cells and your blood, reducing your overall health and taxing your body’s natural processes to the point of disease and other ailments over time. Carcinogens, hormone disrupters, and immune system depressors are alternative ways to describe common agricultural pesticides and herbicides.
Organophosphates are insecticides (a class of pesticides) that kill their targets by attacking their brains and nervous systems. They are also known to cause neurological disruption in animals and humans. In a study published in 2006 in Environmental Health Perspectives, scientists concluded that children’s dietary intake of organophosphates was significantly lowered by adopting an organic diet. They compared metabolites of organophosphates in the urine of children aged 3-11 years in samples taken while they ate non-organic and organic diets. On the exclusively organic diet, the metabolites were undetectable, meaning that the effect of switching to an organic diet is immediate and quantifiable. Wow. So, at every possible opportunity, stay away from these foods that are most likely to contain organophosphates (if they’re not labeled “organic”): celery, strawberries, peaches, cherries, sweet peppers, soybeans, wheat and barley. What other foods should you definitely buy certified organic? Here’s a good resource.
“May I have some braised kale with an extra helping of iron?”
Not only have scientific studies concluded that organic foods are less toxic for you, they’ve shown that they are more nutritious for you, too! In a study published last year in Agronomy for Sustainable Development, scientist Denis Lairon concluded that organic foods have 29-percent more magnesium and 21-percent more iron than non-organic foods. Other scientists have found that ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), phosphorus and phytonutrients are also more abundant in organic foods. Phytonutrients have been catching a lot of media lately — they are polyphenols like cartenoids and flavonoids (antioxidant molecules). Lycopene is an example of a cartenoid that studies have shown to reduce the risk of cancer, and something you should expect a good dose of in an organic tomato.
So Ladies, it’s not just the types of foods that you eat, but also the way they were grown that matter. Organic food preserves youth by drastically reducing the amount of dietary exposure to toxins that suppress health and cause disease, plus it packs more nutrition per bite than conventionally grown food. Another morsel of food for thought: by spending a little extra on organic foods today, you’ll be saving untold amounts of money in health care costs in the future.
The Fountain of Youth … In Your “Extended” Backyard
Although the focus of the next series of posts will be on organic gardening in your backyard, not all of us have access to a little patch of Earth. Fear not! Local, organic food is well within your reach … and not as expensive as you may think, especially if you look beyond the specialty and supermarkets. There’s a stack of resources available for finding local farms that grow food organically (whether certified or not). And they’re all just a click away …
Local Harvest is the premier local, sustainable food search tool — you’ll find the nearest farmers markets, farms, CSA drop-off points and more just by entering your zip code.
Farmers’ markets should be part of your weekend routine. They are hubs of local commerce, vivacious social interaction and even nutritional education. There’s been an incredible surge in the number of farmers markets established each year, which means that there’s probably one conveniently located near you. When you’re at the market, take your time and enjoy the total experience — the community, the culture and the connection with your local farmers. No matter how ambitious you are in your own garden, you won’t be able to grow everything you want, and farmers markets provide the opportunity to fill in the gaps.
CSAs are another way to get local organic food, although they don’t provide the freedom of choice you have a at a farmers market. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, in which you purchase a “share” of the farmer’s harvest during the season (often 16 weeks, but some go year-round) and receive a box of the produce that is at its peak each week. Each farm offers variations on this theme, like bi-weekly boxes; half shares; flower, meat, bread and egg shares and more. Usually CSA farms offer off-farm pick-up points, making it convenient if you don’t live within a reasonable commute to the farm.
Local produce markets are responding to customer and market demands for more locally sourced sustainable produce. Organic food from California may not have the levels of toxins found in conventional foods, but it has lost some of its nutritional value on the long journey, not to mention the greenhouse gas emissions its transportation has produced. In the Metro Detroit area, check your local Market Square or Plumm Market store for local, organic produce. And don’t forget about food co-ops, which are member owned and operated.
You can even get the organic produce delivered to your door. In the past few years, a number of delivery services have gotten up and running. Door to Door Organics is a popular one, but their offerings aren’t necessarily local.
And Finally … Bringing It All Back Home
Ready to commit fully to your health and hold on to your youthful vitality? Planting your own organic vegetable, fruit and herb garden is the ultimate step in taking your health into your own hands. For too long, decisions about how we nourish ourselves have been made in Washington. Re-empower yourself to make these decisions, starting with choosing the crops you most want to grow. In forthcoming posts, you’ll learn everything you need to know to install and care for your own personal Fountain of Youth in your backyard!