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Organic: Food for thought

| June 9, 2010 9:00 PM

Maybe it's not coincidence that the questions "What is life?" and "What is organic?" are two of the toughest to answer. After all, they both refer to living things, and what's more controversial or complex than that?

We mention this not to engage in deep philosophical debate but to try to shed a little light on a weedy patch of a subject with plenty of prickles.

In today's letters to the editor we feature two that might represent both ends of the "organic" continuum. One is from a writer who recommends buyers ensure they're purchasing state-certified "organic" foods. The other expresses appreciation for the Food & Health column we published last week by a local resident who will be writing occasionally on regional farms growing organic products.

The author of the column, by the way, was informed that a letter would be published criticizing her research because the featured farm is not state-certified as organic. The criticism didn't phase her.

"Organic is a term that has many definitions," she replied. "People in the local farming community do their best to produce natural or organic food. Most don't apply for a license or feel they need to."

As Press columnist Sholeh Patrick wrote in a two-part series on organics in January 2004, there are indeed many definitions - and a seemingly endless list of resources for anyone interested in learning more about natural foods. One of the best she found is eatwellguide.org. The site provides a searchable list and basic information for consumers, including FAQs for the basics on how to interpret the site's claims. In our community we also have some very knowledgeable people in the natural food stores that advertise in this paper, as well as at the local farmers' markets.

But the living, breathing question at the root of it all seems to be this: To certify, or not to certify?

Well, if you listen to the consumers, it doesn't really seem to matter.

Over the weekend we ran into the farmers featured in last week's column. Not only are their food shares completely sold out for this season, but after the column was published they received commitments from 50 more customers who wanted to be put on the farm's waiting list.

We appreciate those who expend the time, energy and money to go the route of state or even federal certification, but when it comes to local farms, one of the great advantages is that consumers can check them out for themselves.

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