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Living for the Long Haul: How do we go about choosing among food options available to us?

Options for better food are in your neighborhood

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PINE RIVER — In previous columns we reviewed how conventionally produced foods have changed over the years and evaluated some types of alternatively produced foods, including USDA Certified Organic, grass-fed beef, free range, pasture raised and certified humane.

In this column we will discuss practical considerations and additional options to consider as we shop for food.

Nonconventionally produced food is typically more expensive to produce and costs more to buy.

If our food budget does not allow us to purchase entirely organic and other nonconventionally produced foods, we should be aware that some conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are more highly contaminated with pesticides than others.

The Environmental Working Group periodically puts out a list of fruits and vegetables most contaminated with pesticides called “The Dirty Dozen.” At present, this list includes potatoes, strawberries, spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes and celery.

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Purchasing organically grown fruits and vegetables from this list significantly reduces our family’s exposure to pesticide residues.

Another concern about purchasing conventionally produced fruits and vegetables is that they are typically picked green or before they are fully ripe, and there is a long delay in getting them to the grocery store.

Fruits and vegetables are picked before they are ripe because they are less likely to bruise and have a longer shelf life. Some fruits and vegetables that naturally produce ethylene continue to ripen after picking, whereas others may not ripen fully, and taste and nutritional value suffers.

Fruits and vegetables grown in the United States take an average of three days to get to grocery stores and an additional one to three days before they are purchased by the consumer. By the time produce reaches the grocery store it has lost approximately 30% of its nutrients.

Vitamins and antioxidants are the most rapidly depleted nutrients from produce once harvested. Fruits and vegetables that are produced outside the United States may take weeks to reach our grocery stores.

Now for the good news!

We can find fresh nutritious fruits and vegetables, grown in rich organic soils, picked at the peak of ripeness and delivered to us within hours, thus retaining most of their nutritional value.

We can do this by growing them ourselves or by purchasing from local organic growers.

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Local products also include meat, eggs and milk, in addition to fruits and vegetables.

We can access these products directly from neighbors, from farmers markets, by arranging to receive a weekly delivery of food through consumer-supported agriculture (CSAs) or through local co-ops.

These local sources are beginning to produce vegetables year-round by growing in deep-winter solar greenhouses, and we can even grow limited quantities in south-facing windows in winter.

Having a direct, trusting relationship with those that produce our food is a quality of life that was lost several generations ago but can be regained.

Finally, we can learn from those who first inhabited this land long before European settlers arrived that food is all around us. What many of us term weeds are actually very nutritious and tasty foods that can be harvested from our yards and fields, and prepared both as food and medicine.

We end with a quote by Samuel Thayer from his book "Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting and Preparing Wild Plants:"

“Some people think that it’s silly to go on an invigorating walk on a beautiful May morning and come home with a lush heap of delicious gourmet vegetables when it would take only slightly longer to drive to the grocery store and spend hard-earned cash to get weeks-old inferior produce with half the nutritional value, doused with deadly chemicals.”

(References to all factual information quoted provided on request and comments and questions are encouraged: BalsamMoon3148@gmail.com)

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Douglas J. Weiss and Barb Mann are caretakers/directors of the nonprofit Balsam Moon Preserve in Pine River, a spiritual place of peace, sustainability and renewal.

Related Topics: PINE RIVERENVIRONMENTFOOD
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