I had the opportunity to do an e-mail interview with Elizabeth Henderson, author of Sharing the Harvest, A Citizen's Guide To Community Service Agriculture. Elizabeth started one of the first CSAs in 1988 and has been an organic farmer for 25 years.
Elizabeth: There are clear health benefits to eating organically grown foods. Recent studies show that organic foods are much less likely to contain residues of chemical pesticides and are denser in essential vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidents. Interested readers can find the research studies on the Organic Center website – www.organiccenter.org.
The food from local, family-scale organic farms is fresher, richer in nutrients, and grown with greater care than the industrialized organic food shipped from California or elsewhere that appears in supermarkets. Knowing your farmer is the best way to assure the safety of your food.
Celeste: If a consumer can afford a limited number of organic items, what fruits and veggies should they start with?
Elizabeth: The fruits and veggies with the highest level of chemical residues are peaches, strawberries, potatoes, lettuce, and spinach.
Celeste: How is the consumer helping the environment when buying organic?
Elizabeth: One’s own health is very important, but many people also want to contribute to reducing the likelihood of severe climate change. Eating organic:
- Uses less energy.
- Is good for the health of the planet.
- Organic farms use 30 to 60% less energy than conventional farms.
- By using cover crops and composting, organic farmers stock carbon in the soil, which helps to reduce the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.
- Buying from local farms cuts out the huge energy expenses for transporting food from distant places.
- And when you buy directly from farms at farmers' markets, farm stands or through community supported agriculture, you cut out the middlemen and spend less money on your food.
Elizabeth: Organic farmers sometimes use botanical pesticides, but these break down very quickly and have not been found to leave residues on the food. Organic food is not guaranteed to be free of all chemical residues since these are so pervasive in our environment that even mothers’ milk has residues. But organic farmers do not make things worse by using synthetic, toxic materials in growing food. Sodium nitrate is allowed in limited amounts in organic production. Personally, I have never used any in 27 years of organic farming.
Celeste: What are some important things a person needs to consider when choosing a CSA?
Elizabeth: Every CSA is different! You should select the CSA that offers what you are looking for. Some CSAs give you the opportunity to participate in growing the food or helping with distribution. Others simply deliver the food to a convenient place near where you live. Every CSA provides information about how your food is grown, shares recipes and gives you the chance to connect with a special piece of the earth and to share the risks and benefits with farmers whom you get to know.