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Path to Sweet Aire

15 September 2012

How learning that the Big Organic Companies had sunk to an all-new low led me a good apple from Darlington.

Someone from Organic Consumers Association called last night asking me if I was aware of the struggle to label genetically modified foods and to request a donation towards the cause. In California people had put Proposition 37 on the ballot for this November and in other states similar efforts were gaining ground. I told her that I had recently learned that many of the more prevalent companies selling organic food are actually funding the effort to defeat Proposition 37 and therefore I would have to make an effort to buy organic food from other, usually costlier labels. Though it should have come as no surprise, I could no longer ignore the obvious – the offenders, who typically price their product lower than the other options on the organic aisle, would do whatever it took to put the smaller players out of business.

So I would have to dig a little deeper and allocate my dollars to support those who understood that organic was not just a marketing ploy but a relationship to the earth, society and future generations. Moreover, it was more than absence of toxic inputs but a holistic approach that respected the nature of the plants, roots, soil, microbes and ecosystem.

So this Saturday morning as I set out for the grocery store, I realized that I should first go to the farmer’s market and support my local farmers. Once there, I remembered my promise to the campaigner from Organic Consumers Association, that I would be spending my money supporting truly organic food. Well, it doesn’t get much truer than this. After paying $4 for a small bag of small organic potatoes I thought, what can I buy with $6, coming to a total of $10 which is really the minimum that I would have donated to the campaign to prevent the purveyors of GM Foods (aka “Frankenfoods) from concealing the very fact that they are GM foods, while selling the said foods.

As I strolled ahead, some apples beckoned. They were local, but there was no mention of organic. I selected a basket and then gently asked, “Do you know whether these were sprayed very much?” I wanted to encourage local farmers even if they were not organic, because it is more likely that a local farmer could go organic than a Big Organic farm somewhere in California or Chile would ever become local, promote local, or in any way complement the efforts of local farmers.

The young man answered, “We have to spray them.” Oops, I had put him on the defensive. I tried to reassure him that I understood his plight but was just trying to find out how much they sprayed. I am not sure what I expected him to say – maybe I was hoping he would say that they try to reduce overall pesticide use by integrating other methods of pest management. Instead he said, “if we didn’t spray them, these apples would be all black and uneven, like those.” He pointed towards another stall in the farmer’s market. Remembering the appeal to buy what the Health Concern calls “cosmetically challenged” fruits and vegetables, I followed his directions and went to the other stall. There were adorable, if not bright and shiny, little apples. In shades of earthy green and dull red, speckled with dull spots and concave in places, several varieties were on display in small green boxes.

The price was $4 for 6 of these small apples. I asked the farmer to suggest a variety, since I did not recognize the names in front of me. “I like Granny Smith,” I offered. Later I realized that I meant Golden Delicious, but actually I only like Golden Delicious sometimes, when they are a bit rough, their spots spread far apart, and a bit raised on the surface as you slide your fingers across, as if you were reading Braille. This was exactly what the apples at the previous stand looked like.

He showed me a variety that he thought I would like. It was “sweet and tart.” “Right now they are more on the tart side,” he said. I looked doubtful. He asked if I would like to taste one. Sure, I said. He pulled another even more misshapen apple out from under the table. I thought he would give me a slice of it but he just gave me the whole apple. I asked, “I can just eat the apple?” His nod said, “go ahead.” So I did. Quite tasty. Sweet and tart were well balanced. “I thought you would like it,” he noted.

Green Apples from Sweet Aire Farm

The apples grew on Sweet Aire farm. From their appearance, they weren’t “conventional.” But the sign didn’t say “organic” either. I asked gently, if their produce was organic. He explained that it was not certified organic but it was better than that. As their website explains,

… we do spray our tree fruits and grapes, we try to minimize the amounts and frequencies of our sprays.

In fact, it may well have less harmful and less frequent spray than much of what is sold in the store as organic since a wide range of sprays are considered compatible with the organic label.

And then my eye fell on the rhubarb. Ages since I last ate rhubarb, probably not since I was last in Hull and bought it from the “local farm” section of the supermarket. The farmer was intrigued by my purchase. “You’re from India, right?” he asked. He wondered what I made with rhubarb, since it was not native to India. Nor was it particularly common here, I thought. We exchanged some recipes.

Yes, a lovely day at the farmer’s market.

I will close with some words from Tree Hugger:


From BBC: “beauty might be skin deep, flavour certainly isn’t.”

“By breaking the prejudice for “beautiful” fruit, will this help the organic industry convince consumers that although nature is not always perfect, the produce of nature is naturally good? And will farmers everywhere find profit in reducing their reliance on chemical products–even if not entirely to organic standards? Ask your local grocer today: when will we get ugly fruit?”

You can read about the campaign to label Genetically Modified Foods on these pages:

The Petition called “Genetically Engineered Foods. Mandatory Labeling. Initiative Statute.” appears on the California Ballot as Proposition 37.

Petition to Michelle Obama, known for her organic kitchen garden, to ask President Barack Obama to endorse California’s Proposition 37.

Friends and Enemies of Your Right to Know
By Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association, August 23, 2012

California Pits Organic Brands vs. Corporate Parents
By Stephanie Strom, The New York Times, September 13, 2012

the companies behind some of the biggest organic brands in the country — Kashi, Cascadian Farm, Horizon Organic — also have joined the antilabeling effort, adding millions of dollars to defeat the initiative, known as Proposition 37.


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