Organic? It used to be one of my standard questions when reporting on local farm products about five years ago.
Yet I’ve basically stopped asking in the past couple of years as local has trumped almost every other factor of food consumerism. Not that organic doesn’t have its place, and I commend the farmers who conscientiously keep up their certification either with the U.S. Department of Agriculture or Oregon Tilth.
But for every farmer that defends the transparency of that process, there easily are another two (probably more) who think the government’s organic certification is virtually unattainable for start-up farmers and doesn’t focus on the right values of agriculture, to boot. Most of these say they practice organic agriculture but just can’t meet all the certification requirements in a reasonable amount of time.
The bottom line is that most local farmers are more than happy to discuss their methods, so if you have concerns, just ask. As we’re enamored with so many other attributes of food, however, their exposure to pesticides is still an important issue and one that bears periodic examination.
That’s why the Environmental Working Group compiles its annual Dirty Dozen list, the 12 most pesticide-prone foods that consumers always should choose in organic forms. The EWG Shoppers’ Guide is based on the nonprofit group’s analysis of pesticide-residue testing data from the USDA and U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Here it is:
3. Sweet bell peppers
6. Imported nectarines
11. Domestic blueberries
To put some of this in context, Mother Nature Network reported that about 98 percent of conventional apples have detectable levels of pesticides. The fruit topped the list for the second year running. Domestic blueberries tested positive for 42 different pesticide residues; 78 different pesticides were found on lettuce samples; every nectarine the USDA tested had measurable pesticide residues; grapes, as a category, have more types of pesticides than any other produce, with 64 different chemicals; and 13 different pesticides were measured on a single sample each of celery and strawberries.
This isn’t just scare tactics. The EWG also complies the Clean Fifteen, or produce with the least pesticide residue. The idea is that if you’re on a budget, you can feel justified buying these in their conventional forms.
2. Sweet corn
6. Sweet peas
11. Domestic cantaloupes
12. Sweet potatoes
The Rogue Valley indeed grows some delicious melons, many on farms that lay no claim to organic — like Seven Oaks in Central Point. That’s where I get my melon and corn fix every summer because my family doesn’t grow those two crops in our organic garden.
Melons shouldn’t require any preparation apart from whacking them open. But we’ve all encountered the stray few slices at the end of a picnic or sighed over filling up the compost bin with rinds. Those can be pressed into service, though, as a quick-pickle relish for topping sausages or spooning onto a cheese platter. Try this recipe from The Associated Press.
Sweet Watermelon-Rind Relish
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole allspice
4 cups watermelon rind, green skin removed, cut into 1⁄4-inch chunks (easiest way to prepare is to cut red flesh away with a paring knife and use a vegetable peeler to remove skin)
1 1⁄2 cups sugar
1 cup red-wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cinnamon sticks
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into chunks
On a 6-inch square of cheesecloth, combine the cloves and allspice. Tie cloth into a bundle.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the watermelon rind, sugar, vinegar, salt, cinnamon sticks, ginger and spice bundle. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 hour, or until watermelon rind is tender. Allow watermelon to fully cool in liquid. Remove and discard spice bundle, cinnamon sticks and ginger. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to a month.
Makes 3 cups.