We’re constantly encouraged to “Buy Local,” but what if local isn’t the healthiest choice? The farm pictured below is local and organic, yet they’re growing strawberries covered in plastic. Should you still buy local if the food is grown like this?
The answer is you should buy from farmers using the best farming methods, local or not.
How do you find the farms using the healthiest practices? If you shop at farmers market, don’t be afraid to ask your local farmer questions – you have a right to know how your food is grown. If you aren’t sure what questions to ask, use this as a guide. If you purchase food from a grocery store, ask the store manager what farms they buy from. Contact the farm and ask if you can email them a few questions. You can also use the information in our previous post “How To Find A Local, Organic Farm Near You” as a guide.
But the best way to learn more about how your food is grown is to visit a farm. I did, and it’s how I discovered those plastic covered strawberries.
THE 5TH ANNUAL
Farm Day happens once a year in Ventura County, California. Willing farmers swing open their fences and give tours to anyone interested in finding out more about how their food is grown.
MCGRATH FAMILY FARM
My day started at McGrath Family Farm. The McGrath family has been farming in Ventura County since 1867. Phil McGrath started the organic farm in 1995 because of his “dedication to sustainable farming.”
THE TOUR BEGINS
I was eager to visit a local farm and learn more about their sustainable farming practices. However, when I walked onto the field, I immediately noticed that the soil was bare and dry. That was disappointing because the cornerstone of organic farming is caring for the soil. Healthy food literally starts in the ground.
As the tour continued through the farm, I saw more exposed and dry soil. I wondered why they didn’t use cover crops.
Cover crops are type of plant (such as clover) that farmers grow to protect their soil from harsh elements (such as wind and sun). Cover crops also add nutrients to the soil, suppress weeds, prevent erosion, help soil retain water, and much more.
Healthy soil has a thriving ecosystem that science is only beginning to understand. Researchers are realizing that there are connections between the microorganisms in the soil and the bacteria we need for digestion in our guts.
Restoring soil health very well may end up being a critical part of the next big revolution in human health. Eating food grown in healthy soil could be one of the most important decisions you make for your overall health.
BACK TO THE TOUR
When the tour arrived at the rows of strawberry plants, our guide explained how they use plastic (known as plastic mulch) to conserve water and suppress weeds.
Plastic?! I avoid eating or drinking anything packaged in plastic and now my strawberries are growing in it. How could these farming methods get USDA Organic certification? Why would the USDA allow plastic mulch when cover crops can conserve water and suppress weeds?
I felt cheated, but it was a good lesson. You can’t assume that the USDA Organic label guarantees the food was grown with the highest organic standards. So how can we avoid organic food grown in plastic and unhealthy soil? Look for this new logo on your food label.
Regenerative Organic Certified was created by the prestigious Rodale Institute with the help of a coalition of farmers, ranchers, non profits, scientists, and brands. The Regenerative Organic Certified logo helps consumers like you and me figure out which farmers use the best farming practices.
The Regenerative Organic Certified logo reassures consumers that the farm uses a holistic approach to farming that seeks to improve the land rather than deplete it. The goal of Regenerative Organic Certified farming is to restore soil health and animal welfare while also providing fairness for farm workers. It’s one step beyond organic.
Hopefully this new regenerative farming certification will also encourage and help small, family-run farms like the McGrath Family Farm implement the most sustainable farming practices – the ones that protect our soil, our health, and the health of our planet.
The single greatest leverage point for a sustainable and healthy future for the seven billion people on the planet is arguably immediately underfoot: the living soil, where we grow our food. – The Atlantic, “Healthy Soil Microbes, Healthy People”
The Regenerative Organic Certified label is coming soon, but if you don’t see it in your store, continue buying USDA Certified Organic. Yes, it’s hard to know how committed any individual farm is to organic practices. But by buying organic, you’re telling large-scale conventional farmers that you won’t support the use of toxic chemicals and unsustainable farming practices that kill bees, threaten our health, contribute to climate change, destroy our soil and harm our environment.
USDA “Soil Health Important to Farmers, the Environment and Society”
The Cornucopia Institute – “A New Food Label Is Coming Soon and It Goes ‘Beyond Organic’
Rodale Institute – “Introducing the Regenerative Organic Certification”