Cultivating Hope Foundation wants to make a difference in our community by growing organic vegetables hydroponically.
But what does that even mean? There are so many ways in which producers and manufacturers label food that it can get quite confusing.
What is the difference between Organic, natural, free-range, etc.?
What does it mean to buy Organic? Is it better than regular products?
According to the Standards Council of Canada, “Organic production is a holistic system designed to optimize the productivity and fitness of diverse communities within the agro-ecosystem, including soil organisms, plants, livestock and people. The principal goal of organic production is to develop operations that are sustainable and harmonious with the environment”.
These are the general principles of organic production in Canada:
Principle of health – Organic Agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plants, animals, humans and the planet as one and indivisible.
Principle of ecology – Organic agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.
Principle of fairness – Organic agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.
Principle of care – Organic agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment.
Following these principles, farmers can label their produce organic if they follow these regulations:
- Organic fruits and vegetables must be grown without any genetically modified seeds (GE), fertilizers made from chemicals or sewage, chemical pesticides, chemical herbicides and irradiation.
- Growers are also required to keep records and present them upon demand by accredited inspectors.
- Foods may also be labelled “100 per cent organic,” “organic” (95 to 99 per cent organic) or “made with organic ingredients” (74 to 94 per cent organic).
“100 per cent organic” – All ingredients are organic. May carry the USDA or the Canada Organic seal.
“Organic”- At least 95 per cent of ingredients are organic. May carry the USDA or the Canada Organic seal.
“Made with organic ingredients” – If the product contains at least 70 per cent organic ingredients, it can list up to three of them on the label. It cannot carry the USDA or Canada Organic seal.
“Organic ingredients” – If the total is less than 70 per cent, a product can’t call itself organic on the front panel or carry the seal, but it can list organic ingredients on the side panel.
For organic content of lesser amount, the specific organic ingredients may be listed.
Another benefit of organic farming is Crop rotation. This involves changing the type of crop grown in a particular area on a regular basis so the soil doesn’t get ‘tired’ or used to it. If a crop is grown for too long in one area, the soil’s nutrients can get depleted, decreasing the chances of a healthy crop in every successive year. Rotating crops also helps keep the soil fertile, as well as help reduce the amount of pests and diseases that can build up over time. How often a crop needs to be rotated depends on what’s being planted there.
How about Organic meat?
- On meat, the organic seal means the animals have been exclusively fed certified organic feed and no by-products of other animals.
- The animals can’t be given hormones or antibiotics.
- They must be allowed access to the outdoors and treated humanely.
What is the difference between cage-free, free-range and pasture-raised?
Cage-free – the animals can freely roam a space with unlimited access to food and water, without access to the outdoors.
Free-range – birds must have outdoor access. So if you have a small hole, like in the picture, and a large barn with a couple of thousand birds, most of them never see the light of day.
Pasture-raised – the animal is allowed to roam free in a pasture. These are the healthiest animals.
‘Natural’ labels – natural and organic are NOT the same.
The use of ‘natural’ on labels is a much less regulated term than the term ‘organic’.
There is no single set of requirements for products claiming to be natural, but such labels are supposed to be accurate.
- If, for example, meat is claimed to be natural because the animal was not fed antibiotics or hormones, the label should say that and it should be true.
- Farmers or food companies that use the “natural” label are not subject to inspections as a condition of using the label. You just have to take their word for it.
Every time you make a food choice, either organic, local produce or the humane treatment of animals, you are making a statement about what is important to you and your family.
But is buying Organic worth the value?
Good for your body – Organic food tends to be nutritionally superior to non-organic food, for the reasons listed above.
Good for the environment –
- Help reduce soil erosion
- Groundwater tends to stay cleaner because of the lack of chemical treatments.
- Wildlife has a better chance of survival, both because of the reduced amount of chemicals and the chance for them to colonize an area more naturally.
Buying organic, however, can be quite pricey. Don’t stop eating your fruits and vegetables just because you can’t buy organic. But, for affordability reasons, you have to choose between what food to buy organic, here is a list that may help you decide.
These are some fruits and vegetables that you should buy organic because they contain the most amount of pesticides.
Apples tend to get sprayed a lot. This is a problem because we eat the skin. Thoroughly wash the apples before you eat them, or peel them to get rid of the pesticides.
Because of the way it grows, celery is missing a protective outer layer. This means that conventional farming requires the use of a lot of pesticides. Make buying celery in organic varieties a priority. It’s considered one of the most polluted foods out there.
Strawberries also tend to be sprayed a ton. The pesticide load is especially high in imported varieties. Go organic here, and be sure to wash them thoroughly.
The thin skin on grapes means they absorb much of the pesticide load sprayed on them, and you can’t wash it off. Even peeling won’t help, so skip the chemicals in favour of organic grapes.
- Leafy greens
Leafy greens are another category that gets a high dose of pesticides. Be careful to look for organic versions, and take the time to wash them thoroughly. The pesticides used on greens can be especially powerful.
Like apples or any other produce that contains an edible skin, potatoes should be bought organic. As a root vegetable, environmental contamination is a possible issue. Buying from a farm that is 100-per cent organic can alleviate this problem.
- Hot peppers
The sprays used on hot peppers are especially dangerous. Avoid buying conventional peppers whenever possible.
Not all foods need to be bought organic. Some fruits and vegetables, especially those with thicker skin, are less dangerous to buy conventionally grown. Don’t worry about buying all your foods organic. Instead, make getting the produce listed above your priority — it’s a compromise your health and wallet will agree to.
Cultivating Hope Foundation wants to make a difference in our community by growing organic vegetables hydroponically. We want the community to have access to local, organic, and affordable products year-round. It’s not only healthier for us but also for the environment.