Although my blog is not entirely about gardening, you will find that I post quite often about flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables and all the many ways that gardening is great for your health and overall well-being.
In a previous post,http://jodybug1968.com/2014/02/11/gardens-are-good-for-the-soul/, I talked about the many reasons gardening, in general, is good for us. Organic and genetically modified (GM or GMO) foods are definitely something to consider when planning your garden. I hope you find this information helpful in making some decision.
Do you garden? Are you familiar with organic and non-GMO gardening? Are you interested in reading more about how to have success in organic gardening?
First of all….What is GMO?
According to nongmoproject.org, GMO’s or genetically modified organisms, “are plants or animals created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology (also called genetic engineering, or GE). This experimental technology merges DNA from different species, creating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.”
According to recent studies, approximately 80% of all processed food in the US contains genetically modified ingredients.
What is Organic?
The term “organic” refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. Specific requirements must be met and maintained in order for products to be labeled as “organic”.
Organic crops must be grown in safe soil, and must remain separate from conventionally grown products. Farmers are not permitted to use synthetic pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, and sewage sludge-based fertilizers.
Organic livestock must have access to the outdoors and be given organic feed. They may not be given antibiotics, growth hormones, or any animal-by-products.
Are GMO’s bad?
There is some debate on this subject, but lots of information on the web to educate yourself on.
According to the Institute for Responsible Technology and the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) GMO’s have been found to cause a variety of health issues including allergies, liver problems, infertility, infant mortality, digestive problems, autoimmune disease, mental illness, obesity, ADHD, and cancer. Many scientist believe that we are suffering a significant increase in these ailments and other diseases since the introduction of GMO’s. In addition, it has been found that genetically modified foods increase pesticide use, harm soil quality, create herbicide tolerant “super weeds” which pose serious problems for farmers, and disrupt ecosystems.
Other groups such as Monsanto claim that GMO’s have not been proven to pose any health risk and are a good resource for underdeveloped countries. In addition, it has been stated that genetically modified foods increase yield for farmers, taste better, have more vitamins, resist disease, kill pests, and survive harsh weather conditions. Some claim that the increase in disease over the past few decades is the result of poor diet and increased use of processed foods, but is not the result of the use of genetically modified foods.
While I remain open-minded, I tend to lean toward the “better to be safe than sorry” line of thinking. I have experienced many disappointments in the name of big business. Pharmaceutical companies constantly release drugs approved by the FDA (after significant clinical research) which are advertised as safe , only to be pulled from the market due to serious health problems and even death. The tobacco industry told consumers, for decades, that cigarrettes and other tobacco products were safe, however, we now know that isn’t true. We have consumed innumerable products, blindly believing they were safe, only to find out they contain harmful chemicals or substances which carry serious health risks. We have been supplied with meat and dairy products full of hormones and antibiotics, then were later informed that research has proven them to be harmful to our health. We have been sold mosquito sprays and other pesticides only to learn of their toxicity after years of use. Even personal care products (containing phosphates and phthalates) such as hair spray, shampoo, and lotion have now been proven to be harmful to humans and their environment.
In the pursuit of supplying truly healthy food to myself and my family, I am making some serious changes. Gardening with organic and non-GMO plants and seeds is among those efforts.
Is it safe to assume that if I buy organic foods, I am avoiding GMO’s?
While choosing organic foods is a good step in the right direction, this does not ensure that you’re avoiding GMO’s. Organic certification doesn’t require GMO testing, therefore organic foods are not necessarily Non-GMO. If you’re trying to avoid GMO’s, it is best to pick foods that are certified Organic AND Non-GMO.
Why are non-GMO and organic foods more expensive?
Organic food is generally more labor intensive since organic farmers don’t use pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or drugs. Alternative pest and weed control tends to take a bit more effort. Organic certification and the maintenance of this status is also expensive. Organic feed for animals is more expensive and organic farms tend to be smaller than conventional farms. Smaller farms generally have higher overhead and often distribute smaller produce volumes. Most organic farms are too small to receive government subsidies, causing additional strain, and many businesses currently choose to purchase goods at a cheaper price rather than choose a healthier choice. Once healthier choices are in higher demand, this will likely change.
I started buying organic products years ago (regardless of the eye-rolling responses from many friends and family). It does tend to cost more, but in the long run, the cost can be balanced. Besides….how much money are you currently spending on medications for allergies, acid reflux, headaches, pain relief, digestive issues, and other health problems that could potentially be alleviated by changing what you’re putting into your body? Growing your own food and preserving it gives you a complete supply of what you need at a much lower cost. Growing and preserving your own food also significantly decreases your exposure to harmful chemicals used in commercial canning methods, AND eliminates the question marks about what you’re truly being fed.
What steps should I take?
Many people feel overwhelmed at the prospect of changing the foods they buy in order to avoid GMO’s and pesticides. Deciding to make those changes is the first step. Once the decision is made, you can take it one step at a time. Here are some suggestions:
- Start evaluating one meal at a time. Choose breakfast, snacks, lunches, or dinners and evaluate where changes can be made. Once you have eliminated/replaced all or most of the unwanted foods, move on to the next meal.
- Choose specific food groups to begin modifying. Look at what vegetables, fruits, grains, etc…you eat regularly and make those adjustments until you’re more comfortable with what you’re buying.
- Grow your own herbs, fruits and vegetables using only organic and non-GMO plants and seeds.
- Shop at local farmers’ markets. Many cities and small towns host weekly or monthly farmers’ markets, where local farmers bring their products to an open-air street market and sell organic and non-GMO produce. Often you will find items for less than you’d pay in the grocery store or supermarket since there are no shipping expenses.
- Buy local foods in season and preserve them. By canning or freezing produce when it’s in season, you will have it stored away for use when they’re off season and potentially more expensive or just unavailable.
- Join a food co-op. Find out whether there is a natural foods co-op, also called a cooperative grocery store, in your area. Co-ops typically offer lower prices to members, who pay an annual fee to belong. You generally do not need to be a member to shop at a food co-op.
- Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. Individuals and families purchase “shares” of produce in bulk, directly from a local farm. If you do not have one in your community…start one!
- Community farming is also becoming more common. Several people will agree to grow different items, each person growing something different, and then share these items at harvest time. This gives the growers the ability to “specialize” in one or two crops, while still reaping the benefits of multiple crops. In addition, members of the group can help out other gardeners if they’re unable to maintain their garden for a period of time creating a stronger sense of community which we could all use a little more of these days.
- Raise your own livestock when possible. If you’re unable to raise your own, purchase them from a reputable supplier who raises their animals under organic guidelines. There are often local supplies of eggs, beef, chicken, turkey, and other products.
How do I fight pests in my garden without using chemicals?
- Research the web. We have access to so much information at the tips of our fingers (and green thumbs) including blogs, articles and videos.
- Subscribe to reputable magazines. If you’re not into searching the web, there are numerous magazines which specialize in gardening organically.
- Visit websites of organic suppliers. There are all sorts of products ranging from pest nets and pheromone traps, to soaps and oil sprays, to safe bacteria and “good” insects that feed on the destructive ones. There are also a lot of do-it-yourself remedies.
- Remember to keep your soil in mind when gardening. If you’re bringing soil in from another source, make sure it is organic soil free from pesticides, herbicides, and chemicals.
How can I encourage change within my community or with suppliers?
- Money talks. Use yours wisely. If enough people stop purchasing GMO or specific products containing harmful substances such as pesticides, high fructose corn syrup, phosphates and phthalates, and other chemicals, the manufacturers will supply products without them.
- Use your voice. Contact your local and state government and voice what you want from them.
- Educate your children. Educating your children creates expectations for future generations, so talk about this with your families, and communities and work to supply alternative options.
- Keep educating yourself. Significant knowledge and understanding in these matters will enable you to relay information effectively and help you find more ways to make the necessary changes.
There is a wealth of information on the web about GMO’s and organic products. I advise you to research this information on your own in order to educate yourself as this is sure to become more and more relevant. I have included links below including information on how to start a food co-op and where to order non-GMO seeds: