I’ve been an organic farmer for more than 26 years, and I’m so gratified that growing food without synthetic chemicals is no longer regarded as a crazy occupation. Now, many people believe that choosing organic food over conventional protects their personal health as well as the environment. They’re also beginning to understand that the two are intertwined — we can’t be truly healthy if our air, water, and soil are polluted with toxic chemicals.
As parents, we try to protect our kids from the many dangers in the world; we get them the best car seats, make them wear helmets when riding their bikes, and make sure their play dates are with families we trust. All these actions have immediate results. Choosing organic food, by contrast, is more of a long-term investment. It just makes sense that eating food grown without the use of toxic chemicals meant to kill insects, weeds, and diseases has to be healthier for our bodies.
We’ve long trusted our gut instincts on this, but now scientific research supports the idea. In May, the President’s Cancer Panel released a report, “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk,” urging consumers to eat food grown without chemical pesticides and fertilizers, antibiotics, and growth hormones. Just a week later, another study in the journal Pediatrics linked consumption of foods with pesticide residues to a higher incidence of ADHD in American children. Other studies have concluded that organic produce is often more nutritious than conventional, with more vitamins and antioxidants in every bite of many items.
Choosing organic helps protect our planet for our children and future generations. It keeps these toxic agricultural chemicals out of our rivers and oceans, soil and air. Organic farms recycle organic materials into the soil instead of relying on synthetic petroleum-based chemicals. And organic soil actually sequesters carbon and helps mitigate global warming. Organic farming is also safer for farm workers and neighboring homes and schools. Just Earthbound Farm alone, working with our 150 farmers on 35,000 acres, avoids the use of more than 11 million pounds of synthetic chemicals every year.
Sometimes it’s hard to find or afford all organic food. When you’re trying to protect your family from pesticide residues — especially children whose nervous systems are still developing and who often eat more produce per pound of body weight than adults — the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide can help. EWG ranks commonly consumed fruits and veggies by how many pesticide residues they contain when grown conventionally. If you can’t buy everything organic, you can cut your pesticide exposure from fresh produce up to 90% by choosing organic options from their list.
Heirloom Lettuce Salad with Strawberries, Walnuts, Goat Cheese and Walnut Balsamic Vinaigrette
This simple and delicious salad features strawberries — those sweet-tart and succulent joys of spring and summer — which consistently test high in pesticide residues when they’re conventionally grown. Most conventional strawberry producers rely on methyl bromide to fumigate their fields; it’s extremely toxic to humans and wildlife, and it depletes the ozone layer in a big way. While I try to be flexible about insisting on organic, I always avoid buying conventional strawberries.
Whole heirloom lettuce leaves make a beautiful and flavorful base for the delightful blending of sweet strawberries, creamy goat cheese, and toasted walnuts — but spring mix or butter lettuce also work well. The flavors are melded perfectly by a quick-to-make balsamic vinaigrette that features toasted walnut oil.