Hello September: National Organic Harvest Month

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“Organic” must be the buzzword of 2017 and there’s no better time to talk about it than in September: National Organic Harvest Month. Anyone from eight-year-old school children to thirty-year-old supermoms might mention the word on the daily. It makes sense: in supermarkets, at farmer’s market’s and in our school food systems, organic foods are the wave of the future.

What does organic mean? Why buy organic?

USDA Certified Organic Food must be grown or raised without pesticides, fertilizers, synthetics, sewage sludge, bioengineering, ionizing radiation, antibiotics or growth hormones. According to the USDA, organic operations must demonstrate that they are protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved substances. 

When farmers use pesticides on crops, for example, they end up in the soil, which then transfers into our foods. And when we eat such inorganic produce, these pesticides can be broken down in our bodies and cause harmful effects for our short- and long-term health. Pesticides may also stunt concentrations of vitamin and mineral growth, as bestselling author and activist Michael Pollan points out in his book (which we highly recommend), “In Defense of Food, An Eater’s Manifesto.

So, what can we, as food activists for our bodies, do to ensure that we are eating a varied plate of organic produce daily?

September is National Organic Harvest Month. The change of seasons between summer and fall is the perfect time to look into what your local farmer’s markets have in stock for the upcoming season. Local Harvest has a user friendly website that allows users to type in their zip codes and check where local produce may be found in the upcoming months.

We also suggest looking into Farm to School programs, which reach thousands of students across the country. The initiative “enriches the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and local food producers.”

School liaisons reach out and connect with local farmers in order to establish the use of local produce in schools. This collaborative effort allows young students to gain access to healthy, delicious, local foods through cooking classes, science classes, farm field trips, and opportunities to create gardens on school property.

What’s available in the Big Apple?

Specifically, in September, the produce that is available in New York is bountiful and colorful.

We’re lucky enough to enjoy lima beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, spinach, plums, peaches, apples, and watermelon (and this list is by no means exhaustive). If you’re curious to know more, a chart on year-round produce can be found here: Pride from A(pples) to Z(ucchini).

The Future of Food

Organic fruits and vegetables can be available for everyone, but the reality is -they’re not. In the next decade, our mission must be to make organic products affordable and accessible for all.

In the current search for affordable prices, farmer’s markets are a great place to start for local, organic produce. In some communities, there are also local organic produce groups which organize an assortment box of fruits and vegetables to be sent out to family homes – A great opportunity to receive local produce at a reduced cost!

If organic foods are simply too expensive, the Clean 15 list is something to contemplate. The Clean 15 are fruits and vegetables that have been chemically tested and were shown to have little to no pesticide remains when found in supermarkets.

Alternatively, the Dirty Dozen are fruits and vegetables that have the highest traces of pesticides, so if you can afford organic produce, try to go organic with these. 

Strawberries are #1 on the Dirty Dozen list.

Is anyone actually making change?

Indeed. You’ll remember Angel Rodriguez, VP of Community Economic Development (CED) for Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha and Change Food Fest 2016 speaker. Working with Philadelphia residents, Angel said they were asking him for the most genuine thing: They wanted the highest quality food… At the cheapest price.

It may seem like an oxymoron, but he was able to achieve just that. Angel decided to make that change, and created a program where 34 pounds of food cost $23, as compared to the supermarket price of $75.

If his team in Philadelphia can do it, so can we. Let’s work to make organic produce affordable in our neighborhoods, even if it is done one small step at a time.

Sara Scheidlinger is currently completing her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Dietetics at Queens College. She hopes to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and pursue a career in either nutritional fertility, oncology, nutrigenomics and public health, or combine all four! She hopes to live in a world that allows healthy food to be available for everyone, anytime, anywhere.

Change Food® works toward a healthier food system for people, animals & the planet.  Learn more about Plant Eat Share – planting food in public spaces. For free.