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A mutually rewarding challenge

Until recently, organic produce was found mainly in home gardens, quaint farmers markets and specialty health food stores.

Over the past few years, however, the heightened eco-consciousness of the green movement and health concerns about chemicals used in conventional farming have led to consumer demand for fruits and vegetables that are grown without synthetic pesticides, artificial fertilizers, irradiation or biotechnology, making organic the fastest growing sector in the food marketplace.

In addition, research is beginning to support the contention that chemicals used in conventional farming can have a negative impact on health. The 2008-2009 annual report from the President’s Cancer Panel, “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now,” published in April 2010, encourages consumers to choose organically grown food to help decrease their exposure to environmental toxins. The report also recommends giving preferences to food grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers and growth hormones.

Despite being more widely available, the cost of organic produce can be as much as 40 percent higher than conventionally grown crops, placing it out of reach for many consumers.

The good news is that choosing organic foods to improve your health doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes an annual Shoppers Guide to Pesticides based on lab tests conducted by the USDA Pesticide Data Program. According to the EWG, you can lower your pesticide consumption by nearly 80 percent by avoiding the 12 most contaminated conventionally grown fruits and vegetables and instead eating the least contaminated produce. When you eat fresh produce from the “clean 15” (the least contaminated fruits and vegetables), you will be exposed to fewer than two pesticides per day, compared to as many as 67 pesticide per serving found in the “Dirty Dozen.”

Listed here are the Dirty Dozen: Celery (most contaminated), peaches, blueberries, spinach, potatoes, strawberries, nectarines, kale, grapes (imported), apples, bell peppers and cherries. The following are the Clean 15: onions (least contaminated), avocados, pineapples, asparagus, cantaloupe, cabbage, sweet corn, mangos, kiwi, watermelon, sweet potatoes, honeydew melon, sweet peas, eggplant and grapefruit.

If you are concerned about pesticides, peel your fruits and vegetables and trim outer leaves of leafy vegetables in addition to washing them thoroughly. Keep in mind that peeling your fruits and vegetables may also reduce the amount of nutrients and fiber. Some pesticide residue also collects in fat, so remove fat from meat and the skin from poultry and fish.

Wash all fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly with running water to reduce the amount of dirt and bacteria. If appropriate, use a small scrub brush — for example, before eating apples, potatoes, cucumbers or other produce in which you eat the outer skin.

Have you checked out our own Pagosa Farmers Market? The produce is good and the market is every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Ponderosa Lumber and Hardware parking area.

Farmers market produce is renowned for being locally grown and very fresh. Farmers markets allow farmers to pick produce at the peak of flavor, preserving nutritional content. And since locally grown produce does not travel as far to get to your table, the difference in mileage saves fossil fuels.

Farmers markets also often feature meats that are raised humanely on pasture, handmade cheeses, plus eggs and poultry from free-range fowls.

Last week, I mentioned “wet-markets” in my country of birth. “Wet-markets” or farmers markets are a traditional way of selling agricultural and home manufactured products in Malaysia. It is a daily market that is a part of normal life in villages. The fish and fowl are sold live. Travelers (tourists) frequent these markets to sample local foods and to learn about local culture. To this day, when I’m in Malaysia to visit family, I thoroughly enjoy the social ties that bring all the different farmers in the surrounding villages into a larger town to sell their produce to the many urban housewives. It’s a mutually rewarding exchange.