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Organic Food Business Here to Stay

Once thought to be a passing fad, organic food has grown into big business. More producers are getting into the organic food business and consumers are responding by spending billions of dollars each year. The word “organic” is appearing in more stores, on more labels, and next to more foods.

“It’s beyond the trend,” says Cory Schreiber, Culinary Instructor at The Art Institute of Portland. “It’s about getting people to understand the impact of their choices with food in terms of how it preserves itself as a resource.”

To understand that impact, it is important to first understand what organic means. According to Wikipedia, organic foods “are made in a way that limits or excludes the use of synthetic materials during production.” In order to be certified as organic, businesses must meet standards set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Whole Foods Market is one example of a company that apparently has grown with the trend. The company says it has been in the organic food business since 1978, with the first Whole Foods Market opening in 1980. Today, it is a publicly traded company with more than 270 stores in North America and the United Kingdom.

Organic farming is good for the environment, according to Whole Foods, because it does not rely on chemicals. Another attribute, says Schreiber, is that farmers in the organic food business use crop rotation methods to maintain topsoil while preventing erosion.

“Large-scale conventional farming is destroying top soil,” he says. “Each choice we make and each place we put our dollars says a lot about our place on the planet.”

But organic food can be expensive for the business and the consumer. Consumers pay about 20 percent more for organic food, Schreiber estimates, because farming without chemicals and pesticides can be expensive.

The price tag for organic food may be higher, but the benefits make up for it, says Barbara Pleasant, an award-winning garden writer, and author of Starter Vegetable Gardens.

“The short and long-range benefits of choosing to buy organic food and locally-grown food – better taste and nutrition up front, and less pollution for the planet – make too much sense to ignore,” she adds. “The organic label says not only that the food was grown without synthetic chemicals, but also that the varieties are not the result of genetic engineering.”

Either way, organic food consumers are finding a way around high price tags by opting to eat local by going straight to the source – the farmers.

“Farmers markets are increasing at the same rate as organics are increasing,” Schreiber says. “Consumers are trusting farmers in what they say and what they offer.”

Bonnie Dehn is president of the Central Minnesota Vegetable Growers Association and owns a farm that operates year round. The farm dedicates 35 of its acres to the organic food business. Dehn says it’s all about making the planet better.

“It’s our choice. It’s a life commitment,” she adds. “Our foods that are at the farmers market are pesticide free and chemical free, but charged for a fair price.”

The business of farming organic food has grown in popularity. According to the USDA website, “organic farming has become one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture.”

Another alternative to buying organic food is to grow your own vegetables. Pleasant suggests those new to gardening start small.

“Anyone who wants to start a kitchen garden should simply start small with a few easy crops,” she says. “It’s really pretty hard to fail with snap beans, potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and leaf lettuce. And basil will grow in a pot.”

Many in the organic food business believe that consumers are generally too far removed from their food as far as knowing where it was grown and how it arrived on their plate. Even if gardening is out of the realm of possibility for those seeking a healthier diet, they can cook their own food.

“Anyone can learn to cook,” says Pleasant. “The only way to control how much fat, salt, and sugar you eat is to learn to cook so you can eat at home.”

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