Katherine A. Jameson
Everything seems to have its catchphrase these days: “Heirloom”. “Artisanal”. “Organic”. From “natural” or “non-GMO” to “classic” foods carry not only a brand name, but an often confusing description of what they are and the purpose they serve. Products labeled “all natural” or “cell-free” mean little.
We are taught to “buy local” or “buy organic”, look for a “non-GMO” label, or buy products from a specific region. We are fed so much information that it seems almost impossible not to become skeptical when we are trying to be healthy. We often hear that farmer’s market products are “pesticide-free”, but what does that mean? Is it free of herbicides, fungicides and chemical fertilizers? The freer our food becomes, the more expensive it seems.
Growth in growth.
Some local farmers’ markets feature growers born in them, but turning farms into big business, whether locally or nationally, is no small feat. “My money, my problems” can be translated as “My land, my pests” when grown on a large scale. After all, how can you personally take care of the beds if you decide to go big?
On a land they have cared for for four generations, the Tamai family does just that. Their personal touch seems to make their products shine. On a rainy day, when I stop by to meet Gloria, she is colorfully laid out on tables and under awnings. She laughs softly when she can’t remember exactly how many years she’s been attending a farmer’s market on Wednesdays, but has been a staple here for over four decades. Her clients became her friends. When I ask if she has any favorites, she diplomatically replies that she does.
Like many small local farms, Tamai is resistant to organic certification. The process is long and expensive, and the lease on forty acres of land that once cost them $125 an acre has skyrocketed to $3,000 an acre over the years. They had to fight fuel prices to soften the blow. “We are trying to keep prices low, but it is very difficult because everything is very expensive.”
Soil health is critical to producing good quality produce, and much of our soil across America is nutrient depleted. Many regenerative or sustainable farms focus on soil health by returning organic matter to the soil, much like tamai do with compost and crop residue. Chemical fertilizers destroy the soil and are bad for our health, not to mention the environment.
You can notice the difference in foods grown in healthy soil. Tamais’s beets flared with electric color, as if someone had dyed them. Farmers associate product color with soil nutrient density and optimal phosphorus levels.
The product begins to lose its flavor and nutritional composition within 48 hours of harvest. (Most of what we buy in stores is outdated in this sense). Tamai are harvested the night before they are delivered to Santa Monica Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays, which means they are some of the freshest in the area.
Surrounding us with vibrant greens, root vegetables and ruby red berries, Gloria Tamai discusses the use of biodiversity practices in growing her crops. She says they use ladybugs to protect their strawberries, which only allows the use of pesticides deemed suitable for organic produce elsewhere on the farm. Ladybugs eat pests that bother strawberries, somehow sparing the berries themselves.
What really matters.
Shop in town, ask questions. Buying locally reduces the environmental impact when products are shipped long distances, but that’s not the only thing to consider. Conventional farming is harder on the land and soil than organic farming because it captures less carbon and releases more pollutants into the soil, which end up in our rivers, streams and oceans.
Many of the chemicals used in traditional farming have been linked to cancer, and many scientists suggest they are contributing to the rise in ADHD in young people. When we can’t buy local organic produce, what factors should be considered in our choice?
Topics for conversation.
Talk to farmers. What do they use in their products? How do they grow crops without spraying? Do they use pest control products? Fertilizers? Ask if they use herbicides or fungicides. Fungicide residues were recently found on 90 percent of common citrus samples studied.
Obtaining an organic certificate is expensive and time consuming and is not reliable. Sprays are still used in organic farming, and there are plenty of loopholes that farmers can go through if they want to.
Shop locally as much as possible and always try to buy thin-skinned fruits and vegetables (also known as the “dirty dozen”) organically if possible…and if your wallet allows.
Roasted carrots with harissa yogurt
1 bunch rainbow carrots
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper for taste
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 tablespoon harissa spice (I use dry)
2 tablespoons mint, finely chopped (add more if desired)
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Clean the carrots with a vegetable brush. Cut off the tops and cut in half lengthwise.
Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and stir.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Bake for 20 minutes, turning once or until soft.
In a small bowl, add yogurt, lemon juice and zest, garlic, harissa spice, and mint.
Stir. Add salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate to blend flavors. *
Drizzle carrots with yogurt or serve the sauce with a mint garnish.
*Recommendation: Make the yoghurt sauce first and refrigerate for a few hours before serving.
The message “Fog at the Farmer’s Market” first appeared in the Santa Monica Daily Press.