Organic produce is a healthy investment – it’s great to know we’re not eating pesticides or hormones and we are less likely to end up with infected produce and oddball recalls. But, while organic produce is much healthier for us than the conventional stuff, USDA organic labeling is extremely expensive. So expensive, that many small farms often cannot afford the label, although they are using organic farming techniques.
This is where we come in. As a Co-op, we like to buy from small, local farms, supporting our local farmers while also giving a boost to the local economy. Before we purchase from a farmer, Ed, our produce manager, always checks out the farm and the farmer’s practices (check out Ed’s fully buying philosophy here). From here, Ed judges how he chooses to label the produce – USDA organic, chemical free, or integrated pest management, or IPM as we say in the biz.
But, what does all this reallllly mean?
Let’s break it down…
There are multiple levels and category standards for this label. For example, some USDA organic seals only account for 70% or 95% of the ingredients while others account for 100%. Beauty, textile, and alcohol regulations are also different from food regulations. Regardless, this seal costs big bucks, which many small farms and producers can’t afford.
Chemical free is what Ed deems as 100% organic, although the product does not have the official USDA seal. Naturally grown is another phrase used to describe chemical free in the industry, however, be wary of this phrase, as it is prone to green washing.
IPM (integrated pest management)
The benefit of IPM is that it allows farmers to spray if necessary. Before spraying, however, farmers come up with a process to determine when and when not to spray, varying with each farmer. This differs from industrial farming methods because farmers are able to identify the pest and its risk before spraying. Remember, just because farmers can spray doesn’t mean they always do.
Our farmers that practice IPM never spray after the fruit or vegetable has started to blossom.
Keep an eye out for these labels in our produce department. They’ll be sure to guide you in the right direction when choosing your fruits and vegetables.
Another trick of the trade is to look at those tiny numbers on the PLU sticker. If the series begins with a ‘9,’ that piece of produce is USDA certified organic (remember, just because a product is labeled organic does not mean it’s local!) If the series begins with a ‘4,’ that piece of produce is conventionally grown. But, be aware that chemical free and IPM PLU stickers will also begin with a ‘4’ due to the issue we discussed above. New to the food industry is GMO labeling. This PLU series will begin with an ‘8,’ but this label is not required… yet.