An increased interest in organic foods has led to the Beaverdale Farmers Market and local grocery stores offering a wider selection of vendors who carry such products, even though some national studies suggest there is little nutritional difference in “organic” food compared to conventionally produced food.
Jane Gasperi, vice president of the Beaverdale Farmers Market, has been involved with the market for the past three years and says last year there was a noticeable increase in the interest in organic foods.
“We got questions last year at our booth about: ‘Who is organic?’ ‘Do you have organic?’ ” she says.
Because of the interest, Gasperi, of Beaverdale, says farmers market organizers are trying hard to recruit more vendors who sell organic products and are local food producers.
“I ask on the form if you’re an organic farmer, and we try and promote that, too,” she says.
“Organic” is a production term. In general, organic products are required by law to be produced without chemicals — pesticides derived from natural sources may be used. Foods that are labeled organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture must go through a certification process. Some producers at markets may still deem their foods “organic,” even though they may not have gone through the certification process.
Organizers also work to ensure the farmers market location is safe. It is held on a field next to Boesen the Florist’s location on Beaver Avenue.
“We were very specific with Boesen when we started this: There can be no fertilization, no chemicals can go on this grass at all,” Gasperi says. “We’re being very cautious about the environment. We want to attract organic people.”
Tim Davis, the director of operations for Dahl’s Food Mart, says the amount of organic produce and other products that grocery store chain offers is growing and expanding. The Beaverdale Dahl’s is a smaller store, so their amount of space presents some challenges in the amount and variety of organic items that are offered, he says.
Studies suggest there is little nutritional difference in organic v. conventional foods
A Stanford University study released last fall showed there was no significant difference in the vitamin content of organic foods compared to conventionally produced fruits and vegetables.
The study ran contrary to the reason many North Americans say they buy organic food. A 2010 Nielsen study reported that only about 24 percent of North Americans actively buy organic foods, well below the world average. However, those who did purchase organic foods say they did so because they were healthier, pesticide-free, more nutritious, environmentally friendly, tasted better, were not genetically modified and were supportive of small farmers.
The No. 1 reason for buying organic foods was because consumers believed they were healthier, followed by the belief such purchases would be free of pesticides and other toxins. The belief that organic foods are more nutritious also ranked high.
The increased demand for organic products is growing internationally. In 2012, the world market grew to $63 billion with demand exceeding supply, and sales have tripled in the United States during the past decade, according to Iowa State University Extension.
Iowa’s 467 organic farms had $60.7 million in sales in 2011, which made the state fifth in the nation for the number of certified organic farms, according to the USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service.
Price remains a factor
Gasperi, with the farmers market, is a vegetarian and searches for organic items at the grocery store when fresh produce isn’t available.
She says she came to that decision for health reasons.
“I think there are some chemicals that we eat in our foods,” Gasperi says. “I think it contributes to diabetes and all of the diseases that we have today. Kids and young people have so many more illnesses and diseases than maybe 30 or 50 years ago, and I think it’s maybe because there’s so many pesticides put on and in our foods that it catches up with us. That’s why I’m trying to eat things and cook with things that don’t have those additives in them.”
Gasperi estimates about 50 percent of the produce items she buys at the grocery store are organic. Sometimes she resorts to canned or frozen produce because it’s more widely available and can be cheaper.
“I want to have the good, quality products,” she says. “That’s my source of food. All I eat is vegetables and fruits. I do look for organic. I search them out when I go to a market.”
Dana Greenwood of Beaverdale says he also tries to buy fresh foods as much as possible but has mixed feelings about buying organic produce in the supermarket.
“I always say mentally that I can tell a difference (between organic produce and non-organic), but I don’t know if that’s a seed that’s been planted, and I just feel better about myself,” he says.
Greenwood says sometimes price is the deciding factor when it comes to whether he purchases an organic food item. He says he thinks some organic produce items are purchased more than others because of media attention surrounding outbreaks of the e. coli bacteria.
“I think the press turns more people to organic versions and convinces them it’s less likely to happen” that they’ll get sick with organic food, he says.
Greenwood says his preference is local, fresh foods he can purchase at outdoor markets. Most of his produce comes from markets during the months of May through October. He also grows his own tomato plants.
Lisa Gardner sells some of her items through the Iowa Food Cooperative, a membership-based association that connects members with foods produced in central Iowa. She started Gardner’s Harvest about four years ago and makes baked goods that use natural and local ingredients. She makes all of her items from scratch, does not use preservatives, and offers gluten-free items.
“A lot of people were saying ‘Your bread is so good; you can sell it,’ ” Gardner says about how she got started with a bread club and selling at local farmers markets before joining the food cooperative.
While Gardner makes all of her items from scratch — meaning no mixes — she says she can’t always use “organic” ingredients.
“I do where I can because sometimes organic can make it way more expensive, and I want to make my food affordable,” she says.
In addition, Gardner tries to use mostly organic or chemical-free foods in her own home. She makes her family’s own bread — unless her schedule makes it too conflicting or bread is needed right away, as was the case recently.
“I went for about three years without buying any bread at all,” she says.
Gardner also buys eggs from a friend who has chickens or through the food cooperative. She buys produce from a local family’s garden at 44th Street and Hickman Road or farmers markets — season dependent, of course.
“A lot of local foods are organic just because the farmers might not be certified organic, but they don’t use pesticides and stuff,” Gardner says.
In the winter, she shops at local grocery stores for organic items, but says she is price conscious.
“I try to keep away from the dirty dozen, but I am highly influenced by price,” Gardner says, referring to a nationally recognized list of 12 fruits and vegetables that have been shown to contain higher amounts of pesticides and chemicals.
To help eliminate chemicals on food, Gardner says she washes all items very thoroughly.
“I do a lot of reading and (eliminating toxins) just seems like the way to go,” she says. “You don’t want to fill your body with the extra chemicals. I’m not a militant organic eater, but I think it doesn’t hurt to try to avoid (chemicals).”