You see the word "organic" everywhere: on fruit and vegetables, meat, skin care products, and even clothing. But what does it all mean, and why should it be important to you? Let's take a deeper look.
Organic living has a positive effect on the environment and on personal health. The most basic definition of organic is products grown without the use of pesticides and inorganic fertilizers. By switching to organics, you can feel better about yourself and the world around you.
Project Green Lancaster is here to help. Understand what organic means according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Read about the benefits of organic products. Discover organic farms in Lancaster County and what they are doing to become organic. Find out where you can purchase organic products in your neighborhood. Meet someone locally who buys organic. Finally, eat organic with an Amish macaroni salad recipe.
The word "organic" can be defined in a few different ways. The USDA provides a very strict definition of organic, while uncertified organics can take on many different meanings. For more information on the specifics of farming organically, see Pesticide Free Gardening.
USDA Organic Certification:
The USDA provides different regulations for crop production, livestock, and handling. But in general, to be organic, there must be:
- No use of chemical fertilizer or pesticides,
- No genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and
- No hormones or antibiotics used on livestock
For more information on USDA regulations, see the Organic Production and Handling Standards Fact Sheet (PDF).
According to the USDA, there are four categories when labeling products "organic":
- 100% Organic
- Made with Organic Ingredients
- Made with Organic [specified ingredient]
The four categories are explained below:
1. 100% Organic
To be "100% organic," all of the ingredients except for water and salt must be produced and processed organically. These products receive the USDA Certified label.
To be labeled "organic," at least 95% of the ingredients must be produced and processed organically. The remaining ingredients must be ingredients that are not available organically. The certification label may also be present on these items.
3. Made with Organic Ingredients
A label that says "made with organic ingredients" indicates the product is at least 70% organic. Up to three of the organic ingredients must be listed on the label. Additionally, these products cannot be produced using sewage sludge.
4. Made with Organic [specified ingredient]
The ingredients in a product labeled "made with organic [specified ingredient]" contain less than 70% organic ingredients and can only identify the ingredients which are organically produced in the ingredients section of the labeling. For more information on organic labeling, check out the Organic Labeling and Marketing Information Fact Sheet (PDF).
An uncertified organic product is not necessarily inferior to a certified product. The USDA exempts producers of less than $5,000 in yearly organic sales from certification processes. This means that smaller farmers may be following all the procedures of a larger farm, but don't have the USDA certification label on their products.
Larger farms that use organic procedures but lack certification may be downwind from a farm that uses pesticides, therefore, risking contamination. This may have little to no effect on the crop, but it prevents certification. Uncertified organic products generally boast other facts, such as humane treatment of animals or environmentally conscious farming techniques that are outside the realm of USDA regulations. In addition, some people believe the protection of farm workers is important in organic farming, though this is also not a regulation discussed in USDA certification.
Back to top
There are three main reasons organic production is important:
- The environment
- Health as a consumer
- Heath as a farm worker
All three are accounted for, for better or worse, in the discussion of pesticide usage, noxious chemicals, soil health, taste of food, GMOs, and human health.
Pesticides contain nutrient-rich chemicals that as run-off have a negative effect on nearby waterways. A lot of oxygen is used up in order to break down the nutrients, leaving little oxygen for the survival of life in the water. The run-off of pesticide is one of the largest non-point pollution problems in the Chesapeake Bay. Lancaster County and the Susquehanna River are responsible for a significant portion of this pollution. The plus side? Sustainable organic farming techniques eliminate excess nutrients from entering waterways, thereby decreasing pollution.
Pesticides also contain noxious chemicals. These chemicals, in addition to being bad for us humans, can harm fish, plants, bugs, and other mammals, too. Noxious chemicals can seep into our drinking water. When mixed together, the effects of noxious chemicals are unknown and potentially dangerous. Research to study the effects of "chemical cocktails" is in the beginning stages, but stopping the use of chemical fertilizers in farming and noxious chemicals in products such as cleaning solutions will prevent any future problems.
An example of a noxious chemical you may be familiar with is DDT (Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane). DDT is a chemical that was used widely to prevent mosquitoes. It had huge effects on the bald eagle populations around the Chesapeake Bay and Susquehanna River. The chemical weakened egg shells, causing the shell to break before hatching. Bald eagle populations dwindled and ended up on the endangered species list. DDT was banned in 1972 and the bald eagle population has since recovered. It is because of this ban that Lancastrians can be fortunate enough to still see bald eagles soaring in the sky (Chesapeake Bay Field Service).
Genetic modification is a new and scary science. Like a new medicine, long-term effects are unknown. Genetic modification can also be expensive for farmers and therefore expensive for the consumer. It's not fail-safe either. A farmer can pay large sums of money for seeds that are supposed to grow strong and tall but may not have the immunity against a particular disease and can cause blight. GMOs can also reduce the genetic variability of a species, which in turn can reduce important traits in plants, such as natural abilities to fend off pests. This means even more pesticides and chemicals need to be used. Eating organically can help you avoid the uncertain repercussions of GMOs (Konig, et. al, 2004).
Another bonus of farming organically is the healthy soil it creates and maintains. Although organic farming may mean the scent of fresh manure in Lancaster County is a little stronger than normal, the processes involved keep the soil healthy. This means Lancaster County can continue to boast some of the richest soils in the world. So hold your nose if you need to, but that smell is what's making your food taste great!
Taste of Food:
And speaking of tasting great, it is the agreement among people who eat organic foods that organic products taste significantly better than non-organic products. On top of that, since most organic food is purchased locally, it's more likely to be fresh and ripe. The local economy also gets a boost. Check out Eat Fresh for more information on local produce.
Using organic products can have a huge effect on your personal health. While researchers argue over the real outcome, the general consensus is positive. Eliminating chemicals in your body can't possibly be a bad thing. The workers on the other end will be thankful, too. Supporting organic farms means reducing the number of farm workers susceptible to harmful chemicals. Keep that in mind the next time you bite into an organic apple, and you just might feel better physically, if not mentally!
Back to top
Organic Farms and Lancaster County
Organic farming in Lancaster County is experiencing major growth as awareness of organics increases through media attention. There are many different reasons Lancaster farmers switch from traditional farming practices to organic methods. William Lockeretz, Georgia Shearer, and Daniel H. Kohl cited that organic farming is "less resource-intensive, more sustainable, more personally rewarding, and less mechanized" (1981, p. 541). In addition, farmers are concerned about how chemical use affects the health of their livestock and their family in addition to creating problems with their soil and ineffectiveness of the chemicals. Other reasons include a "generalized dislike of chemicals, a concern about the environment, or religious principles."
However, there is a big difference between a commercial organic farm and a small organic farm. In addition, religion affects organic farming practices. Organic Amish farms are sprouting up in Lancaster County and kosher organic farming is also appearing in the area. Organic farming in Lancaster County can also be seen in community supported agriculture, or CSAs.
- Techniques: Commercial Farms versus Small Farms
- Organic Amish Farms
- Kosher Organics
Techniques: Commercial Farms versus Small Farms:
There are many different techniques used in organic farming. Most of these are practices that have been around since before chemical fertilizers. Years ago, there was no need for pesticides because farming was not done on a large scale as it is today. The diversity of crops in an area was much larger, decreasing the amount of pests and increasing the health of the soil. These techniques include:
- Crop rotation
- Cover crops
- Animal manure
A crop rotation involves using the farmland year round, planting another crop right after harvesting. Corn, wheat, and soybean are commonly used in rotation in Lancaster County. Each crop planted replaces nutrients in the soil that were removed by the prior crop. Crop rotation also guarantees the farmland will be covered at all times, reducing loss of soil and runoff.
The idea behind a cover crop is similar to that of crop rotation. These crops, often soy in this area, are used in the off-season to prevent soil erosion and decrease the need for tilling.
Animal manure is used a natural fertilizer. Special measures should be taken to ensure runoff does not occur and create excess nutrients in waterways (Gold, 2007).For more specific information on organic farming, see Pesticide Free Gardening.
Organic farming techniques tend to differ depending on the size of the farm. Not all organic farms are farmed sustainably. Lockeretz, et. al researched the differences in techniques between large and small organic farms (1981). Commercial farms tended towards what they called "negative" organic techniques, meaning the farms do not use chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or insecticides (p. 542). Commercial farms do not impose rules for "positive" techniques to fertilize and control pests, though occasionally an organic fertilizer is used.
Conversely, smaller organic farms focus on the positive techniques of organic farming. In smaller organic farms, one tactic to decrease pests is to increase biodiversity in the crop area. By having many different organisms, a pest is less likely to take over than in an area where only one crop is planted (Gold, 2007).
"Although organic farming is generally less energy-intensive than conventional farming," small organic farms also focus on energy efficiency through using renewable energy or non-mechanized farming processes, such as horse-drawn plows (p. 544). This is seen throughout Lancaster County, especially at Amish farms. Many farms in Lancaster are small and family-owned so they aren't USDA certified. Larger certified farms are out west and use questionable practices, including keeping livestock penned up when not grazing. The common feeling among Lancaster farmers is that organic farming should not be limited to pesticide-free farming, no GMOs, and no antibiotics or hormones. Organic farming should include human treatment of animals while using environmentally sustainable methods. Country Meadows Farm in Quarryville does not have USDA certification; however, the farm does not use chemical fertilizers or GMOs. The livestock does not receive unnecessary medications such as antibiotics, are free-roaming, and are grass-fed. Instead of gas-driven machines, the farm uses horses (Brubaker, 2005).
Organic Amish Farms:
In Lancaster County, the Amish are a huge part of everyday life. Amish farmers have started to jump on the organic bandwagon. Through word of mouth, organic Amish farms continue to increase throughout the region. Techniques used on small organic farms coincide with Amish religious beliefs, such as using non-mechanized practices. It benefits the surrounding community as well (Stein, 2005). Amish organic products can be found at road-side stands and farmers markets throughout the county.
Orthodox Jews also see the benefits in the growing popularity of organic foods. Kosher food meets very strict standards, including humane treatment of animals, therefore making it easy for kosher foods to also be grown using organic practices (Rich, 2007). The combining of certified Kosher and certified organic has combined in the Kosher Organic certification program. Franklin and Marshall College introduced kosher organics to its menu in the fall of 2007, where Jewish and Muslim students can now meet their religious dietary needs. Because it is a sustainable food source, all students benefit from the option (Dubroff, 2007).
Some local organic farms:
- Country Meadows Farm: Quarryville, PA
- Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative: Quarryville, PA
- Scarecrow Hill Community Farm: Ephrata, PA
- Breakaway Farms: Manheim, PA
- Happy Cat Organics, LLC: Elverson, PA
CSAs are an important part of the Lancaster organic community. A CSA, or community supported agriculture, allows members of the community to purchase a share of produce for the growing season. Once a week, the CSA will bring fresh, organically grown produce to a centralized location and determine the amount of produce each shareholder can have by dividing the total number of produce by the number of shareholders. There are several CSAs in Lancaster County. For more information on CSAs, check out Pesticide Free Gardening.
Back to top
Almost everything you normally buy has an organic version, from food to clothing to cleaning and personal care products.
Food can be USDA organic (100% organic), organic (95% organic), or contain organic ingredients. Most of these food products can be found at local grocery stores, markets, farm stands, and through CSAs. In grocery stores, organic food may be mixed in with non-organic products, but sometimes stores have sections specifically for organic products and can also be found in the natural food aisle. Markets all over Lancaster County have stands with organic food. Roadside farm stands scatter the county in the summer and fall. CSAs require membership but are another great way to purchase organic food. Organic food may be more expensive. However, keep in mind that unlike traditional farmers, organic farmers do not receive subsidies from the government. Therefore, the price you pay up front reflects the actual cost. Subsidized food appears cheaper, but your tax money actually goes towards the subsidies (Organic.org).
Purchase organic food at:
- Family Owned Markets (John Herr's, Musser's, Darrenkamp's)
- Rhubarb's Market: Lancaster, PA
- Central and Eastern Markets: Lancaster, PA
- Kimberton Whole Foods (coming soon): Lancaster, PA
- Millers Natural Foods: Bird-in-Hand, PA
- Glick's Natural Products: Lancaster, PA
Organic clothing is typically made of organic cotton. Usually organic clothing can only be purchased at specialty stores such as Peachy Green in Lancaster. Peachy Green in the Shops of Hagar also carries fair trade and sustainable products, such as clothing made with bamboo. However, recently larger stores are creating organic clothing lines, such as Levi's and American Apparel. You may find this clothing to be more expensive, but it's generally extremely well-made, which will last much longer. Also, since organic clothing is typically fair trade, you be assured your money is not going towards government subsidies or to support child labor.
Purchase organic clothing at:
Cleaning and Personal Care Products
The USDA typically can't regulate organic cleaning products and personal care products unless they contain agricultural ingredients. These products can consider themselves organic however if they refrain from using toxins. These items are more likely to label themselves "all natural." Why use organic cleaning products? Air pollution inside your home is more dangerous than the air pollution outside. Using organic cleaning products can make the air in your home healthier. Using natural cleaners can decrease or eliminate breathing problems such as asthma, especially in the young and elderly. Organic personal care products do not have harmful chemicals such as parabens that could cause cancer or affect hormones (a particular concern for women). Though definite research is lacking on the benefits of both organic cleaning and personal care products, users of these products cite increased health. In addition, by using chemical-free products, less harmful chemicals enter the environment. It's a win-win for everyone. You can find organic cleaning and personal care products at natural food stores. Chain stores such as CVS are also beginning to feature natural products on their shelves.
Purchase organic cleaning and personal care products at:
Many restaurants in Lancaster County are starting to sell organic foods. John J. Jefferies in Lancaster, sells meals that come from locally grown and organic food. Slow Rise Bakery owned by Brian Hernon, also in Lancaster sells bread with no preservatives or genetically modified ingredients because many chemicals have been found harmful to health. McGeary Organics sells organic fertilizer for home gardening. Their products are sold at gardening stores throughout the county. Café Chocolate in Lititz serves organic foods in their breakfast, lunch, dinner, and chocolate. They are also a member of Buy Fresh, Buy Local. Café Chocolate also provides catering. There are many other locations in Lancaster County that sell organic products.
Back to top
Organics and Economics
At a first glance, organic products are expensive. This is because organic farmers are not currently supported with subsidies through the Farm Bill, as of 2007. The Farm Bill is the United States Federal Government policy on agriculture and food. The bill supports farmers, mostly those who grown corn and soybeans, through tax money.
As corn is being used in increasing amounts for ethanol fuel, profits are skyrocketing. Subsidies keep the cost of ethanol down, but increase taxes. Initiating subsidies into the Farm Bill for organics would decrease the cost of organic products for the consumer and make prices more comparable to other crops.
Decreasing costs of organic products would attract more consumers, increasing demand and therefore increasing the number of organic farms. The result would be fewer chemicals in the atmosphere and a healthier environment worldwide. Noxious chemicals would affect fewer farm workers and therefore health would increase and medical bills decrease.
Supporting the organic movement may initially be a large expense, but in the long run costs will go down and profits will go up. Making the move from traditional to organic farming has the potential to stimulate the faltering American economy and will begin the restoration of our environment. Buy organic when you can to help a local farmer keep up profits and demand for organics. Organic farming benefits everything from your personal health to worldwide environmental health.
Back to top
Case Study: Organic Living
Dr. Nadine Garner is an associate professor of Psychology at Millersville University who lives an organic lifestyle, which is well-known among her many students who have received organic lollipops in class. When asked what stimulated her interest in organic living, Garner told an interesting story. "When I was a kid I read a book in fourth grade, which is maybe too early, called Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. I think that we were just allowed to run loose in the library and pick whatever we wanted and I took that home and here I'm reading about all these things I couldn't even pronounce. I was concerned as a fourth grader that spring might come and there won't be any birds. I was really upset."
By the age of fourteen, Garner made a commitment to be a vegetarian. Her mother also limited additives in her diet such as artificial coloring and flavoring. She notes, however, that though she was always aware about organic, she didn't really know what it was. But, "Once I got into it, there was no turning back," she says. "I am fortunate that my husband is also a vegetarian. It's easy because we made a commitment about four years ago that we weren't going to bring anything into the house that wasn't organic." This dedication to organic products may sound like a difficult task, but Garner says, "When your heart is into it, you look for ways to make it happen."
When defining "organic," Garner typically thinks of the USDA description. This means no sewer sludge, pesticides, or genetic engineering is used in the farming of organic produce. However, Garner believes organic products should also consider the protection of farm workers.
Garner and her husband belong to a CSA called Goldfinch Farm based in York. From June to November, the farm brings their produce to pick-up locations in Lancaster. She says the produce tastes great. "It's not only grown all organically, it was picked just a few hours before," says Garner. "I just feel really good because I know where my food is coming from."
Garner believes it is important to know what she is putting into her body. She is also concerned with the other side, the handling of produce. Garner explains that while a non organic grape may look no different than an organic grape, the non organic grape was most likely handled by a migrant worker who is unaware of the health risks, but is getting sick from touching the produce. She feels a sense of responsibility to those handling her food, saying ""Every dollar I spend, I have to think about where it's going."
A lot of people ask Garner if eating organically is more expensive. She explains that if you know what you need in advance, you can plan for it and purchase items on sale. In the end, her grocery bill is no more than the average consumer. Garner also notes her appreciation towards stores that carry organic produce and believes when they hear it's what people want, more organic items will be in stock, which in turn can reduce prices.
Although Garner focuses mostly on purchasing organic produce, she has started replacing her wardrobe with all organic clothing. She notes that cotton is a huge industry and many workers are affected by the picking of cotton. Additionally, Garner has an organic garden at her home.
Garner is also trying to bring together environmentally conscious individuals and organizations on Millersville University's campus. She recently created the Taskforce for a Sustainable Campus.
In reflection of her husband and her own lifestyle, Garner says, "We're not trying to live in a way that's restrictive but more open. It's not the idea of what are you running from but what are you running towards" (personal communication, March 26, 2008).
Amish Macaroni Salad Recipe
Organic ingredients can be added to any recipe. For the step-by-step instructions, see the Jing file.
2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
4 hard boiled eggs
1 small onion
3 stalks celery
1 small red bell pepper
2 tablespoons dill pickle relish
2 cups mayonnaise
3 tablespoons yellow mustard
3/4 cup white sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons white vinegar
3/4 teaspoon celery seed
Salt and pepper to taste
Any of the above ingredients can be purchased organically in stores through Lancaster County. First, hard-boil the eggs. Next, cook the pasta and then allow it to cool. While the pasta is cooking, chop the celery, red pepper, onion, and eggs. Mix chopped vegetables, egg and relish in a large bowl. Separately, mix mayonnaise, white sugar, white vinegar, celery seed, and mustard in a small bowl. Pour the dressing mixture in large bowl. Add pasta and stir until covered entirely. Enjoy!
Back to top