Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Industrial Organic

Today started off with berries and cereal again. Milk Thistle Farm local, organic, grass-fed milk and non-local, organic Smart Bran cereal again, but this time local, non-organic blueberries from Fantasy Fruit Farm (Afton, NY). They were kind of an impulse purchase on Saturday when I was at the Union Square Greenmarket -- I was so excited to see blueberries that I just snapped them up without asking about growing practices.

This is a weakness of mine: I am pretty shy about asking farmers about their growing practices face-to-face at the farmers markets. I am always afraid they will get snippy and defensive with me, or that my questions will be taken as some sort of ignorant attack on their livelihoods. It is a fear I am going to have to get over if I want to make more informed choices about my food.

But I also think it is something that farmers should think about. Not everyone is going to want to get into a discussion about growing practices to get the information they need about the food they are buying. Some people don't want to take the time, others may be shy like me. So as a farmer, the more information you can broadcast about your farm, your values, your products, and your growing practices, the better. Put the information on a simple website, on a sign near your market stand, or in brochures on your market table. The transparency and openness will attract customers.

During the day today I had some more leftovers from my cooking class: eggplant dip, roasted tomato and chickpea salad, and ancho-rubbed pork tenderloin. Again, because I did not ask where the cooking school sources its ingredients from, I have no idea about the provenance of any of that food.

Again today I snacked on some local Seckel pears from Truncali Farm, which were not organic, but were at least grown using IPM methods.

In the afternoon I had a coffee and a small piece of a Florentine from Financier Patisserie, neither of which was local or organic. I don't even know if the coffee was Fair Trade! I do know that Financier uses conventional mass-market milk in its coffee drinks, though. So the whole Financier visit was a bit of a bust, food-choice wise.

Dinner was better. I was up at my parents' house in Connecticut, but luckily they have a farmer's market right in town on Saturdays, so dinner included a lot of local ingredients. We started with a salad of local tomatoes and local-made fresh mozzarella, followed by grass-fed steak from Greyledge Farm (Roxbury, CT) and local green beans. I don't know which vendors my mother bought from, though, so I don't know if the vegetables were organic or if the milk used for the mozzarella was from grass-fed cows. For dessert we had locally-baked pumpkin pie that also came from the farmer's market -- I don't know if the pie ingredients were local or organic, either.

The whipped cream we had with the pie brings up an interesting point about "industrial organic" foods. The heavy cream my parents had in the refrigerator was from Horizon Organic, a widely-known national dairy brand that has come under fire in the past for skirting the USDA organic regulations and hiding factory-farmed milk behind an organic label. According to consumer groups and whistleblowers, Horizon, and its related entity Aurora, had been deceiving regulators about their cows' access to pasture, confining them to packed feedlots, as well as using feedlot-born animals that had not been raised organically from birth.

The outcry led to the USDA strengthening and clarifying the standards for organic milk production earlier this year. Horizon has supposedly complied with the new standards, but the whole sordid scandal is a good example of why simply buying foods labeled "organic" is not enough -- the object of this exercise is to know as much as possible about where your food came from and how it was grown, raised, and handled on its way from farm to fork.

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