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Soil Matters !

Dec 5, 2019

This was the message Dan Barber left with me when he signed his book back in June 2014. This must have been the turning point in my life when I began to look at food with different eyes.

Dan Barber is a chef and co-owner of Blue Hill in Manhattan and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York. He is the author of The Third Plate. A true inspiration!!

Let's first define nour·ish·ing



(of food) containing substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition. "a simple but nourishing meal"

There was no coincidence when choosing the name for this site!!!

We all know that fruits and vegetables are good for us and contain beneficial vitamins, minerals, and anti-inflammatory compounds. There is also extensive research showing that fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with healthy aging and a reduced risk for chronic diseases.

As we try to eat more fruits and vegetables daily, we may want to consider how the produce was grown and whether or not it contains pesticides.

Being aware of which foods are more likely to contain pesticides can help guide our shopping decisions and ensure we’re not only eating a nutritious diet that includes a variety of fruits and veggies but also limiting our exposure to unnatural chemicals. (1)

The public is becoming increasingly aware of the unacceptable burden of cancer resulting from environmental and occupational exposures (2); yet, there are many out there still skeptical about quality of organic food, whether this is worth paying for and if it does make a difference.

What does organic standards mean?

Unlike conventionally grown produce, organic produce has strict regulations against the use of synthetic pesticides and GMO's.

Few guidelines all organic agricultural farms and products must meet (verified by a USDA-approved independent agency):

• Abstain from the application of prohibited materials (including synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and sewage sludge) for three years prior to certification and then continually throughout their organic license.

• Prohibit the use of bioengineered genes (GMOs) and irradiation.

• Employ positive soil building, conservation, manure management, and crop rotation practices.

In regards to animals, organic standards mean no extraneous antibiotics or growth hormones, access to outdoors and no GMO feed.

However, Organic produce is not pesticide-free. There are pesticides used in organic farming, but they’re derived from natural substances rather than synthetic ones.

Commonly used naturally-derived chemicals: Rotenone*, Pyretheum**, Copper, Sulphur, Neem

*moderately hazardous (WHO) to mammals, highly toxic to aquatic life. Carcinogen? Link to Parkinsons?

**toxic to aquatic life, mild toxicity to wildlife, ?? carcinogen

Check food label guide:

It is estimated that nearly six billion pounds of pesticides are used throughout the globe each year, potentially contaminating our food, air, and water. (3) Their existence in our environment has been linked to the following health problems:

- Hormone disruption

- Skin, eye and lung irritation

- Brain and nervous system toxicity

- Cancer

Possible chronic effects from repeated exposure to pesticides include:

- Blood disorders

- Reproductive effects

- Nerve disorders

- Birth defects

Choosing organic foods in the supermarket can help you avoid pesticides, antibiotics, and GMOs, but remember that the organic certification process is costly; a farm may use organic practices without being organically certified or even certified naturally grown. The next time you're at your local farmer's market, talk to your farmer about his/her methods.

Buying locally is a great way to offset the cost of organic foods. Another way is to decide which foods may benefit the most from being organic. For example, you may splurge for organic spinach, which tends to be high in pesticides, while purchasing conventionally produced avocados, which tend to be low in pesticides.

Any fruits and vegetables are better than no fruits and vegetables, but there are a few compelling reasons for choosing organic. Even if nutrient content is similar, here are additional reasons to consider organic produce:

1. Organic produce may be significantly higher in antioxidants, particularly in terms of polyphenols, when compared to conventional produce.

2. Conventionally cultivated produce may have up to four times more pesticide residue than organic produce.

3. There is also a major environmental factor to consider – organic foods/ practices help nourish the soil and keep it viable for future harvests, whereas conventional methods are more taxing on the environment.

To help prioritize your organic shopping, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases lists of the most and least pesticide-contaminated produce each year based on extensive laboratory testing. By simply avoiding the conventionally cultivated food included on the “Dirty Dozen” list, you can drastically reduce your exposure to pesticides. If you don’t buy organic, use the “Clean Fifteen” list to help guide your produce purchases.(2)

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), even after properly washing produce, pesticides still remain. In fact, the EWG’s annual report on the Dirty Dozen found up to 20 different pesticides on a single strawberry and the three most toxic pesticides in concerning levels on hot peppers.

The average pesticide and fertilizer use on CA strawberries in 2006 = 9,274,453 lbs at an avg of 279.44 lbs/acre. This is the highest average pesticide use on any fruit or vegetable and 2 of the top 5 are probably carcinogens. All 5 of the top 5 pesticides cause multiple birth defects. 5 pesticides account for more than 90% of use on CA strawberries. Of the 109 pesticides used on strawberries 38 were detectable on berry samples. (4)

Yet be mindful that for imported organics: NOP (The National Organic Program) does not inspect food upon entry into the US; Only sporadically tests for contamination; Uses 3rd party inspectors to look at farms once a year; Field testing is not required (but may change) (5)

Choosing organic foods can help reduce exposure to chemicals that may disrupt our bodies’ natural rhythms. Organic practices also help to support the planet through utilizing more sustainable methods and relying less on chemicals to limit pests.

"The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. --- Wendell Berry

(1) A more complete list and a shopping guide can be found at

(2) Layton, L. “US facing ‘grievous harm’ from chemicals in air, food, and water, panel says” The Washington Post. 7 May 2010. Web


(4) Source: California EPA, DPR and CDFA, Environmental Working Group, U


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