Organic carrots and grocery store ethics

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Organic carrotsHow much do I pay for my garlic? Well, unless I'm exhausted and harried and desperate just to grab a bulb and be done with it, a lot. Like Sarah Kanowski, I am convinced that spending more on my groceries will be better in the long run: better for our farmers, better for our health, and better for the earth.

Many farming practices worry me. Cousins of mine framed an old photograph of the lake which abuts their property. It's a pretty enough photograph, which is why they framed it; but I find it haunting. The lake is now dead, poisoned by decades of fertiliser run-offs, and the pressure to produce enormous crops is such that the lake continues to be poisoned year after year.

My cousins hoot at alternative farming methods; they cannot see how withholding fertilisers or turning land over to reed beds and indigenous plants in an effort to neutralise the salinity will allow them to produce large enough crops. So they farm the way they always have, degrading their land and making scathing comments about organic farmers and pretentious city folk, and I despair.

Even so, their comments grate. Exactly how much can I spend on groceries before I am, indeed, utterly pretentious, even immoral? Conventionally grown nectarines cost $2 a kilo; local organic nectarines, $8. People in my own city are hungry, people across the world are starving, and here I am buying local organic olive oil, ten times the price of a good oil from Crete. My daughters won't eat a floury apple from a supermarket, nor a tasteless carrot. 'Buy the good apples,' they beg — they mean the heirloom varieties at $7 a kilo.

Yet even as I wince at the register and think of the hungry, I can't be convinced that buying food from farms which degrade soil and water is cost-effective, or that farm workers should be regularly exposed to airborne pesticides and other toxins. In the long run, we will all be hungry if we don't look after the land, or the rivers and lakes which give it life.

And I have to agree with my daughters — the good apples are good. There is a reward for buying local and organic: the food can be magnificent. Fresh in a way rarely experienced in a supermarket, local organic produce can taste like a Platonic ideal of Apple, Peach, Pear. I remember the first time I tasted, really tasted, a carrot. Crisp, juicy and unbelievably sweet, it was both deeply familiar and wholly new. I realised that every other carrot I had eaten in my life was nothing more than a shadow. This was Carrot; a revelation.

Organic food also comes in great variety. Many organic farmers plant diverse crops to find which are best for their microclimate, or more pest and disease resistant. As consumers of these crops, we get to try a dozen varieties of potato, two dozen apples, peaches speckled and striped, a watermelon flecked with stars.

We also learn to eat seasonally, which means trying different foods when our staples run out. When there are no local potatoes, I've learned to love baby turnips, crisp celeriac or fennel instead. When brown onions are out of season, I use leeks or spring onions, or tight brown shallots. Even my muesli mix varies. I've become more flexible, and open to new foods.

Going organic is a journey. At first it was an intellectual decision, but now I take delight in knowing my onions, my potatoes, apples and carrots. Even so, we're not purists. I can't give up my avocadoes; and, with three young children, there are times when I stagger into the grocery store and grab what I need to feed everyone quickly.

Some days, I weigh a bulb of local organic garlic and worry that I've lost my sense of proportion. But then I remember the dead lake — and I want to dream a bigger picture. In my picture, pure water, clean air and more fertile land are valued. The world is not something to be exploited, but a place that is good. And in this vision of goodness, where apples are crisp and the scent of thyme threads through the quiet of the evening, we are invited to be not just consumers, but stewards.


Alison SampsonAlison Sampson is the mother of three girls. She studied theology at Whitley College, is a regular contributor to Zadok, and blogs at www.theideaofhome.blogspot.com.

Topic tags: Alison Sampson, organic vegetables, carrots, in season, potatoes, onions, garlic, sarah kanowski


 

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Existing comments

I'm rather fond of organic beer myself.
Leander Gonzaga | 09 June 2010


Thanks Alison for this down-to-earth article. It's not rocket science just simply stating a rationale for how different things COULD be.
I've posted it on Facebook for my other friends to read.
Janet | 09 June 2010


Love this article Alison, and couldn't agree more with your sentiments. I also struggle with the "pay more for better food", and with three hungry kids, find that I usually cant afford to buy organic for the sheer volume of food that we go through. I am training my family to eat smaller amounts of the very good, so will buy 500g organic chicken rather than 1 kilo of non-organic, and we will have smaller serves. I am also spending the money for organic dairy and meat, as the chemicals from industrial farming are thought to concentrate up the food chain, and particularly in fats. I am aiming to grow as much of our fruit and veg on our suburban front yard, organically.

There is no doubt that there is a paradigm shift in our food system underway, the lovely thing is that we as individuals can choose to eat under a new paradigm, while we wait for the rest of the world to find their way out of the old.
Andrea | 09 June 2010


Yes, it is nice to eat homegrown or organically grown vegetables and fruits. It seems only perfect and huge fruits are sold in super markets. I believe that most people and especially children would prefer to eat a small crunchy apple instead of the huge waxed imitation cricket balls.

On the other hand we have to appreciate the benefits of farm chemicals. Before we had farm chemicals, about 70% of all food was lost due to lower yields, insect damage and diseases in the field and during storage. Chemicals to control weeds, disease and pests have allowed producing enough food to feed our world’s population. If we look at the current world population, we often assume that the growth is due to improved health care. The best health care in the world is of no use if people cannot be fed. It is actually the advent of farm chemicals, which enabled agriculture to produce food cheaply in large quantities to feed a rapidly increasing population. If we look at DDT and Penicillium, DDT would have saved far more lives during the post W2 war area. For example DDT helped to save the lives of tens of Million of people by controlling mosquitoes to reduce the spread of malaria.

In Australia, leading farmers are moving towards integrated pest control, which means crop monitoring and the use of biological methods and safer more specific chemicals.
We may need a bit more consumer tolerance. A small apple with a bit of rust tastes as good as a “perfect apple”.

Sometimes the perception covers the truth. Consumers are now offered more and more “bio-fuel” to fill up their vehicles. Do they realise that one tank full of bio-fuel made from corn could for example feed a child in Africa for a whole year?
Beat Odermatt | 09 June 2010


There's nothing nicer than to walk down into the garden and pick your own fruit or vegetables, or to have your own pampered free range hens giving up their eggs. Wouldn't it be nice if people who live in environmentally responsible high density housing could have their own plot, complete with hens? I recently read Jonathan Saffran Foer's book on 'Eating Animals' and now cannot face eating chicken or pork. Even the 'organic' varieties are under suspicion!
Mal Aprop | 09 June 2010


Fantastic article Alison!
A great tonic to the articles I find myself reading about how organic food is no more nutritious than non-organic food...it is as much about nourishing the land that sustains us.

Thank you for your lake anecdote - a poignant perspective.
Alex | 11 June 2010


While I can understand Alison's distress at the deterioration of the land in relation to the production of food; equally her argument that organically produced fruit and vegetables taste that much better and are more wholesome, what does concern me is her seeming failure to realize that many people, even if they wanted to, could not afford to pay the prices that are asked for organically produced food - pensioners, single parents, unemployed etc. etc. If we truly desire to improve our environment and eat more healthily, instead of bandaid solutions for the sufficiently affluent few, perhaps we need to agitate more for environment rehabilitation so that ALL can eat healthily.
Dr Judith Woodward | 14 June 2010


I am an organic market gardener and just thought I would give you a bit of info on organic versus conventional carrots:
Organic Carrots: Organic carrot ground is rested and turned pre-planting to form a loose friable bed. Seed is sown and watered. The carrot uses natural biology to grow at its correct pace, giving it natural flavours and textures. They will be hand weeded 2-3 times as they are a slow growing crop.
Conventional carrots: Conventional carrot ground is prepared and formed into a loose friable bed. A pre-plant artificial fertiliser is added. the carrots are seeded then sprayed with Nemacur (ethyl 3-methyl, 4 pheny-phosphoramidate) to kill Nematodes, a ground parasite. Also, stomp (pendimethalin) and Afalon (Linuron) to control weeds. Some weeks after emergence, Gesagard and Fusilade are sprayed to kill the remaining weeds. Another application of artificial fertiliser is banded between rows.
As the carrots grow, they undergo a weekly to fortnightly spray programme of insecticides and fungicides such as Hymal, Rogor and Diathane until 1-2 weeks before harvest.
The artificial fertiliser will speed up the growth of the carrots up to 4 weeks faster than an organic carrot grown at the same time of year.

Visit our website www.peninsulafresh.com for more info and contact details if you would like to know more
Wayne Shields | 15 June 2010


I am an organic market gardener and just thought I would give you a bit of info on organic versus conventional carrots:

Organic Carrots: Organic carrot ground is rested and turned pre-planting to form a loose friable bed. Seed is sown and watered. The carrot uses natural biology to grow at its correct pace, giving it natural flavours and textures. They will be hand weeded 2-3 times as they are a slow growing crop.

Conventional carrots: Conventional carrot ground is prepared and formed into a loose friable bed. A pre-plant artificial fertiliser is added. the carrots are seeded then sprayed with Nemacur (ethyl 3-methyl, 4 pheny-phosphoramidate) to kill Nematodes, a ground parasite. Also, stomp (pendimethalin) and Afalon (Linuron) to control weeds. Some weeks after emergence, Gesagard and Fusilade are sprayed to kill the remaining weeds. Another application of artificial fertiliser is banded between rows.
As the carrots grow, they undergo a weekly to fortnightly spray programme of insecticides and fungicides such as Hymal, Rogor and Diathane until 1-2 weeks before harvest.

The artificial fertiliser will speed up the growth of the carrots up to 4 weeks faster than an organic carrot grown at the same time of year.

Visit our website www.peninsulafresh.com for more info and contact details if you would like to know more
Wayne Shields | 15 June 2010


We've also been getting the organic veggie boxes for the last few months. Two weeks ago we had the best, most wonderful, delicious carrots I've eaten. Fantastic. The taste convinced the boyfriend of the benefit of our organic box compared to $1.99 for a kg of conventional carrots at the store.
Caz | 16 June 2010


A wonderful article, realistically balancing the dilemma of shoppers today. When our children grow up,( and mine exhibits such signs occasionally), they will understand, as are Alison's daughters, that cruelty to animals and debasement of our land are interconnected. And unforgivable!
Gabrielle Pounsett | 23 June 2010