Do you ever really think about what chemicals are on the food you consume? There is a growing trend of people wanting to transition away from conventionally grown produce, however many are deterred from buying organic due to the expense compared to conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. I get it. In some instances, the prices can be double and when trying to feed a family of 5 the budget doesn’t quite stretch to allow for this. Let’s have a look at the difference between organic and conventional farming practices and ways you can transition, without breaking the budget.

In organic farming the basic aims are to achieve optimum quantities of produce of high nutritional quality, without the use of artificial fertilisers or synthetic chemicals. They rely on utilising sustainable farming practices through:

  • Crop rotations and diversity; plant a variety of crops together (called inter-cropping), which provides healthier soil and improved pest control
  • Integrated pest management practices; which are informed by the life cycle and biology of the pest
  • Planting cover crops; to protect and build soil health by preventing erosion, replenishing soil nutrients and keeping weeds in check, reducing the need for herbicides

In conventional farming practices, pesticides are sprayed on fruits and vegetables to kill pests and weeds that have the potential to damage crops. Pesticides is the collective term used for different chemicals used. These include:

  • Fungicides; kills fungus
  • Insecticides; kills insects
  • Herbicides; destroys unwanted vegetation/weeds

Many of these chemicals are harmful to the human body and have been shown to disrupt hormones and effect fertility. Some contain neurotoxins which effect the nervous system, attributing to neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Children are particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of pesticide consumption as their metabolisms work faster. Pesticide consumption in children has been linked to decreased cognitive function, behavioural problems and an increase in paediatric cancers.

One of the main herbicides used here in Australia is Glyphosate, or Roundup as it is most commonly known.  Glyphosate has known carcinogenic effects, with a landmark case in the United States in 2020 determining a link between the herbicide and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, resulting in billions of dollars in compensation.  In addition to this, Glyphosate disrupts the endocrine system, damages DNA and kills beneficial bacteria in the gut. 

So, what can you do if you can’t afford to go 100% organic? Plenty! 

  • When selecting produce keep in mind that fruits and vegetables with thick skins, such as watermelon, pineapples and avocados are less likely to have been penetrated with pesticides. Large surface area produce, such as leafy greens and fruits and vegetables with thin or consumable skin have the highest amounts of residual chemicals. So, prioritise which ones you must buy organic and those conventionally grown that are of least risk.

  • In addition to this, every year a USA based not-for-profit group called the Environmental Working Group (EWG) compile a list of the top-ranking fruits and vegetables with the highest concentration of pesticide residue, commonly called The Dirty Dozen.  In comparison, they also provide a list of the Clean 15 – the top 15 fruits and vegetables with the least amount of pesticide residue. The priority becomes to purchase organic for those listed on the Dirty Dozen

  • Eat in season; produce will be more affordable when it is in its natural growing season and in abundance 

  • Look for organic choices that your family eat the most

If organic produce isn’t available to you at all, then adopt these strategies to reduce the amount of pesticides you are consuming;

  • Soak your produce in a sink half-filled with cold water, ½ cup of apple cider vinegar and a tablespoon of bicarb soda for 5-10 minutes. Then rinse and air dry on some paper towel
  • Shop locally at your farmers markets; this way you get to know your growers and what chemicals they are using on their produce
  • Have a go at growing your own; the satisfaction of tenderly caring for your own veggie patch and reaping the rewards of your homegrown produce is immense
  • Join a community garden; if you don’t have the space to grown your own, then research if there are any gardens in your community that you can get involved with
  • Grow your own herb garden; if space is an issue, start up your own herb garden. Every little bit helps! 

Pick one strategy to start implementing and then over time add in more. Before you know it, you will have significantly reduced the toxic load on your body and your body will love you for it! Which one are you going to choose to get started on today?