Friday, July 24, 2015

Limiting Pesticides in Summer Fruits and Vegetables

Now is the time to enjoy the fresh offerings of summer --  shining dark cherries, juicy peaches, buttered corn, sugary sweet melons, crisp bell peppers and lots and lots of berries, to name a few.  As parents, we want to make sure that our kids eat as healthily and nutritiously as possible.

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For many years now, from my past life as a vegetarian to my current days as an omnivore, the vast majority of produce that I have brought into my home has been organic.  Although this preference has resulted in significantly higher costs than buying conventional produce, I believed that doing so would make me healthier, by limiting my pesticide and chemical intake.

Recently, I was surprised to learn that the USDA organic label does not, in fact, completely disallow the use of pesticides.  Instead, what typically sets organic produce apart from conventional produce is not whether pesticides are used, but how the pesticides are made. The USDA organic label allows the use of naturally derived pesticides. Conventionally grown produce is treated with synthetic pesticides.

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Along with the small shock of this discovery, however, I was glad to find that my years of higher grocery bills were not completely for naught. Organic food has been found to be associated with:
  • Lower levels of pesticides than conventional produce.
  • Higher levels of antioxidants than conventionally grown produce.
  • Production methods that are thought to be more ecologically friendly than conventional food production.
I tend to think, though, that what may be most important in the end is that our families eat a balanced diet. This can be provided either by conventional or organic foods. 

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The pesticides used in conventional produce generally should not exceed government safety thresholds. That said, I also think there is nothing wrong with parents wanting to give their families a diet at the lowest end of the spectrum for what the government considers acceptable pesticide ingestion.

So, what can be done by parents seeking to further limit their families’ exposure to pesticides? 
  • Consider growing your own fruits and vegetables.  
  • Wash fruits and vegetables under running water and discard outer leaves and skins. Learn more here.
  • Be familiar with the "Dirty Dozen."
  • Eat food from different sources to limit exposure to any one pesticide.
  • Buy locally at Farmers' Markets.
At local farm stands, consumers can personally ask growers what production methods they use.  Asking, “How frequently is your produce sprayed with pesticides?”  and “What type of pesticide do you use?” can inform a purchase.  Local growers may also be more responsive in taking their consumers’ concerns directly into account when considering which production methods to use.

Aside from the issue of pesticides, families may simply be interested in helping to support local growers. Below are links to local farm stands and farmers’ markets.

Dedham Farmers Market (open Wednesdays)

Needham Farmers Market (open Sundays)

Newton Farmers Market (two locations – one open Tuesdays, one open Saturdays)

Powisset Farm Stand (open Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays)

Volante Farms (open daily)

Wellesley Farmers Market (open Saturdays)

Westwood Farmers Market (open Tuesdays)

Lastly, for those who want to help bring the fresh fruits of summer to everyone’s table, there are volunteer opportunities.

One organization, Boston Area Gleaners, collects after-harvest leftovers from local farms to distribute to over 500 hunger-relief organizations in eastern Massachusetts. Gleaning is the ancient practice, dating at least as far back as Biblical times, of collecting the surplus left in farmers’ fields. This group invites volunteers aged 13 and up to help glean the fields of numerous eastern Massachusetts farms.

About the Author
Darlene W. Cancell is an attorney turned stay-at-home mom, and most recently blog coordinator for Parent Talk.

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