If you are reading this post, you probably have at least some interest in “eating healthy”. I know that there are at least dozens – if not hundreds – of recommended diet/eating plans available through seminars, books, and websites. Regardless of which one you are following, one recommendation is probably fundamental to all but the shakes-and-powders plans: whole fruits and vegetables. This post will guide you through the basic sourcing options currently available so that you can eat the most affordable, nutritious, and safe produce possible. I am writing from the viewpoint of a United States resident, so please comment or contact me offline if you are elsewhere and have questions.
Our aim here is to add life-giving nutrition to our bodies and to eliminate or minimize the ingestion of toxins.
Let’s start with the three main sources of fresh produce and the advantages and disadvantages of each:
YOUR OWN YARD
I am an avid proponent of using the soil (or other space that would support containers) to grow food, especially as opposed to grass or shrubs. The main reason is that you have optimal control over the food you grow, when you harvest, and how you preserve anything you aren’t going to eat right away. You may also save money over time, especially if you are growing fresh herbs or heirloom varieties. It can require a significant investment of time and money to prepare the soil to grow food if it has been dedicated to conventional landscaping plants. In my case, I stripped all old plant material out, added clean topsoil from a reputable supplier (I grow organic), and planted a crop of buckwheat over the summer and then clover over the winter. I use only plant material (leaves, wood chips, grass clippings, cut up brown cardboard and paper, healthy plant waste); compost made from kitchen scraps as mulch and organic fertilizer (fish bones, fermented comfrey plants, etc.); and essential oils for pest control. Once you prepare the soil and lay out your garden schematic, the rest is not hard or particularly more time consuming than maintaining a grass and shrub landscape. And believe me when I tell you that you will never taste anything better – or feel more satisfied with your efforts – than when you eat something you have grown yourself.
To have your soil tested for pH and for suggestions on which crops would grow best, start with your local library, your County Extension Service, and a local Master Gardeners group. Grow things that you want to eat. Start small to maximize early success (even a few herbs in pots on a sunny windowsill can build your confidence). Keep experimenting and talking to others whose gardens you admire.
Do NOT use mulch, fertilizers, or growth stimulants that contain pesticides, chemicals, or other toxins. Know what you are using – look up each ingredient if you have to – and use trusted sources.
Buy seeds from reliable vendors who are harvesting the seeds from a region with growing conditions similar to your local conditions. Local greenhouses are a good source of young plants if you want to grow your own but choose not to grow from seeds. They can also offer excellent advice about where to best situate plant varieties in your yard based on sun/shade and other factors.
FARM GROWN (includes pick-your-own, farm stand, farmer market, and CSA boxes)
The next best source after your own windowsill, patio, or yard is your local farmer. Your local farmer is growing produce that is best suited to the soil, weather, elevation, and temperatures of your region. You can ask questions about any sprays or growing aids that he or she uses. Many small family farms use excellent growing practices but cannot afford the time and expense required to get formal organic certification. As you buy from a local farmer, you develop a relationship and can often even ask questions about growing practices that would help you with the produce you are trying to raise in your yard.
If you’d like to have a pre-selected assortment of local, seasonal produce delivered to a location near you on a weekly or biweekly basis during the growing season, look for a Consumer Supported Agriculture (CSA) box program in your area.
GROCERY STORE or PRODUCE SECTION
Buying from a retail store is much less time-consuming than growing your own or going to specific farm-related locations to purchase fresh produce. BUT – and this is a big caveat – you have to be very careful when selecting your produce. The featured image with this post shows the numbering system for organic, conventional, and GMO produce. You may also see other numbers that indicate a foreign country of origin.
Always check fresh food labels, as similar looking fruits and vegetables can get mixed into the wrong bins when they are being stocked or returned.
You may wonder why it’s important to buy organic produce whenever possible. Besides offering superior flavor and nutrients, organic produce is simply safer than non-organic produce. Organic certification assures the consumer that no artificial, chemical, or toxic ingredients were added to the soil, sprayed on the plants, or used in the handling/packaging process. It also guarantees that the produce has not been grown from genetically modified seeds. Because organic produce is so much more nourishing than its non-organic counterparts in our current era, buying organic produce can be an important contributor to better health. This is why I recommend that you consider long-term value over short-term price.
If fresh organic produce is not available to you, you may want to consider using the following lists to decide what to avoid (“dirty dozen”) and what to include (“clean fifteen”) on your personal shopping lists. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) updates these two lists every year. https://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/news/2018-dirty-dozen-and-clean-fifteen-lists-rank-produce-items-by-pesticide-level/
See https://www.nongmoproject.org/gmo-facts/ for more information on genetically modified organisms (GMO).
KEEP IT CLEAN
No matter where your produce comes from, you should always soak it to get any sprays, coatings, dirt, and other contaminants off (pesticides and waxy coatings will not necessarily come off completely, so you many want to consider peeling non-organic produce when possible). I recommend soaking your produce in a sinkful of clean, cool water to which you have added a few drops of doTERRA Lemon essential oil and – if you wish – a splash of white vinegar. Most produce should soak for a good 20 minutes (with vegetables from your yard, you may have to repeat the soak). The exceptions are “soft” berries, which should not be soaked for more than 10 minutes to avoid becoming water-logged.
KEEP IT FRESH
Finally, when you have spent your time and money securing the best produce you can, you want to be sure that it stays fresh as long as possible. Here is a short video on how best to store fresh produce and herbs at home: https://youtu.be/0nwcTYNUaO0.
If you are interested in exploring growing your own food, a couple of starter documentaries regarding why and how to have good soil are listed below:
https://www.backtoedenfilm.com/ (how to amend your soil naturally for best growing results)
https://www.filmsforaction.org/watch/dirt-the-movie/ (how soil was formed and is best maintained)
What will you do differently this year to uplevel your produce quality and amount in your daily diet?