Saturday, May 8, 2010

New Dirty Dozen

Here's the dilemma: do I buy what's healthier or do I save money? I get it. There's some resistance out there to spending the extra money on organic because most of us don't want to be suckers. What if organic isn't all that special and we're throwing our money away?

I, for one, do NOT feel this way. I've read enough to know the herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones used in much of mass produced, conventional farming is horrendous. However, I'm not an organic purist. My first choice is to buy locally farmed, non-certified organic foods at our wonderful farmers' markets. Most are responsible farmers and want to produce food they would serve to their families. If you really want a label, look for "certified naturally grown." I hear 4 or 5 of them are at the Market Square farmers' market weekly.

That said, there are other vegetables and fruits I want to buy that can't be grown locally or aren't always in season. That's where I start trying to decide which foods are most important to me to buy organic.

The best place to start is the New Dirty Dozen: 12 Foods to Eat Organic. By choosing organic for these foods, you can reduce the amount of pesticides you ingest by 80%! The list has been around for 15 years, but it changes somewhat from year to year. Here's the list for 2010:

1. Celery: I'm stunned to read that 64 pesticides were detected on celery. Who knew there were 64 pesticides they could use?! I haven't bought organic before, but I'll be looking for that now.

2. Peaches: Peaches didn't fare much better with 62 pesticides. Having grown up with a peach tree, I've seen how quickly they turn from ripe to rotten. I'm thankful we now have two peach trees in the backyard. I'll let you know about July how they taste and how I preserve them.

3. Strawberries: I know it's hard to pay sometimes twice the price for organic vs conventional strawberries, but I think that's money well spent. However, if you're willing to pick them yourself, now is the perfect time to pick your own. We went to Rutherford's Strawberries in Maryville 5/7/10 and the plants are dripping with berries! Look for a post on that soon. Rutherford's is not organic but they use minimal pesticides and the cost is just $1.25 / pound.

4. Apples: Since scrubbing apples doesn't remove all chemical residue and many of the nutrients are in the skin, this is a good food to go organic. Head to Earthfare for these. They've had deals for free apples in the past and most recently they were 3 pounds for $5--a reasonable price. If they have them at Kroger, look for bags in bulk.

5. Blueberries: This is one of those "super foods" loaded with antioxidants, but they can be very expensive. I have found a coupon from Driscoll's before to use at Kroger. Consider buying them frozen to put in smoothies. Cascadian Farm often has coupons; paired with a sale, they're a good buy. We planted blueberry and blackberry bushes this year; I'm just hoping we get them before the birds do.

6. Nectarines: Since I never buy nectarines, I can cross this one off my list. If you're looking for alternatives, consider mangoes and papaya.

7. Bell Peppers: Now I admit I rarely look for organic when buying peppers, but maybe I'll start. I have read that red peppers have loads more nutrition than green (that may explain why they cost three times as much); so if you see a deal on red, get those.

8. Spinach: This is a fairly easy vegetable to buy organic. Last week I bought organic spinach at Sam's Club for $3.97 / pound. Most grocery chains carry organic spinach and often put it on sale. Or I saw a few people selling locally grown spinach at the farmers' market.

9. Kale: Again, I rarely buy kale but I'm trying to muster the courage to try it. Safer alternatives are broccoli and asparagus. I bought beautiful broccoli and asparagus at the farmers' market on Thursday.

10. Cherries: I was surprised to learn that one survey found three times the number of pesticides on U.S. grown cherries than those imported. Good thing I rarely buy them.

11. Potatoes: When I read this article, what struck me was that most potato farmers would never eat the potatoes they grow (which require so many pesticides). They usually plant a separate plot without all the treatments for themselves. That's why I buy our organic potatoes at Earthfare. They have had specials for free potatoes and most recently a 5 pound bag of red cost $6 and russet cost $4.

12. Grapes: They warn imported grapes can be much more contaminated than local alternatives. I'll be trying to buy American grapes from now on. Keep that in mind for wine as well.

Other fruits and vegetables to consider buying organic when possible are leafy greens, carrots, pears, and tomatoes. The article also discusses the importance of buying organic meat and milk. Here are my two cents on those.

Meat: This one is tough for me because organic meat is so much more expensive. However, we've begun buying 1/4 of a cow from a former colleague of my husband's. He does it as a hobby and is experimenting with grass-fed beef. Yes, I have to store a lot of meat in my freezer at once, but the price works out to much cheaper than anything in the store, and we know he uses minimal antibiotics. There are several local resources you might consider; start at the farmers' market or contact Hannah at Frugally Farming Family.

After reading about The Seven Foods Experts Won't Eat, we stopped buying farm-raised salmon. A few weeks back I found wild salmon on sale at Kroger and stocked up. I'll let you know when I see that again.

I admit I haven't researched local pork or chicken. If you have suggestions for where I can find affordable meat locally, please leave a comment.

Milk: Again, this one is tough to do financially for us for the sheer volume of milk we buy a week: 2-3 gallons. Maybe I'm fooling myself, but at least I feel better that the milk we buy states: "Our farmers pledge not to teat their cows with rbST."

Finally, the good news. Here is the list of the Clean 15: foods that don't need to be organic. These fruit and vegetables typically have a protective skin you don't eat: onions, avocados, corn, pineapple, mangoes, asparagus, sweet peas, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, papaya, watermelon, broccoli, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes.

Where do you stand on organic vs conventional?


  1. this is a great post, thank you for the list! You can get a great guide for free here:

    Also, my brother is a salmon fisherman in Alaska - if you buy in the large quantities, it's pretty reasonable per pound (it's great to go in with a couple families) - info is at - he has a unique bleeding method that makes the fish taste great. He's very helpful with any questions as well! If anyone wants info on it, shoot an email on the site and say you're in Knoxville and I can get an order together if I get enough interest!!

  2. Count me in! I'll see if I can get a few more friends to commit to an order. If you would like to get wild salmon, email me at

  3. I'm always in this same dilemma!

  4. You can email me, too, if you're interested in the salmon!