On a sunny day in September 2013, the Cold Creek Conservation Area transformed into the 24th Annual Feast of Fields where hundreds of people gathered together to feast on delicious organic foods, and I was one of them.
I first started consciously eating organic meats, produce and dairy during University when I could spare the few extra dollars. The habit formed and continued after graduation through my two year stint living in Northern Alberta. After I moved back to Ontario and discovered my local farmers market I found the “organic” label to be less important as understanding where and how my food was being grown and prepared. There is something spectacular about knowing as much as possible about what we are putting into our bodies. I find the Feast of Fields to be a celebration of people and businesses who are like-minded in this appreciation for conscious-eating.
This year chefs, sous-chefs, product representatives, entrepreneurs and families manned the open-air tents and smiled and chatted as they proudly showcased their organics. Instead of introducing you to some of these smiling faces as I did in last year’s coverage of the 23rd Annual Feast of Fields, this year I want to share with you more information about organics in Ontario and how you can find organic food in your locale.
Firstly, however, here is a wonderful blog linked from the Feast of Fields website where you will find pictures of all vendors and their goodies: tipsareincluded.blogspot.ca
When I first started writing this piece I researched a lot of different organic websites and articles and tried to compile the information in a way that would help you and I understand our way through certification, regulations, stakeholders, the language and the politics and I found myself overwhelmed. So, instead of putting all of that here, let me tell you what I really learned in my own terms.
At the Feast of Fields you will find organic fruits, vegetables, berries, milk, cheese, yogurt, olive oil, ice cream, fish, pork, beef, poultry, grains, legumes, nuts, pastas, soups, salads, dressings, clothing, beer, wine and even maple syrup. What makes them organic? Great question!
What Makes Something Organic?
In Ontario, conventional farmers (non-organic farmers) can use processed and synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, growth hormones and genetically modified organisms (GMO’s). Organic foods are grown more naturally than their conventional friends, without the use of processed and synthetic pesticides. This is not to say that conventional farmers only grow their foods one way and organic farmers another. Actually, in Ontario there are plenty of conventional farmers who – although their produce isn’t certified organic – use similar practices as organic farmers.
In Canada the term “organic” is governed federally by an Organic Products Regulation that was introduced in 2009. The regulation was developed with input from many different kinds of people within the industry and are based on what are considered to be best practices.
To be certified organic, farmers need to meet regulations set out by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency called the Canadian Organic Standards. Meeting these standards allows foods to use an organic label on their packaging. However, the standards only require 95% of the product to be sourced organically in order to be labelled organic. So, just because something is labelled organic in the grocery store doesn’t mean that it is 100% organic – interestingly enough, in Canada you are not allowed to have anything labeled 100% organic.
Oh, and because a product has the Organic Canada certification doesn’t mean that the food is from Canada. Other countries can meet the Organic Canada standards and be labeled accordingly. So, if you’re looking for products from Canada don’t assume that the Organic Canada label means it’s Canadian.
A friend of mine once shared with me a some information about the Price Look Up (PLU) code stickers on fruits and veggies in the grocery store and what they mean. PLU codes that start with:
- 3 & 4 = conventionally grown – could including the use of synthetic pesticides, hormones, etc …
- 8 = product of genetic engineering a.k.a. genetically modified
- 9 = certified in order to be labeled organic
Most grocery stores label their organic fruits with a sign so you will know before you look at the code but I find it is a great way to cross-check your choice.
When you look at vitamin and mineral content in organic meats or produce compared to conventional meats or produce there is not really an arguable difference that one is more nutrient rich than the other. However, most people who are fans of eating organic would argue that eating organic does not have as much to do with nutrition and it does about health.
You tell me – if given the choice to take a bite from a bright red apple that was genetically modified and sprayed with a pesticide or a bright red apple that was not genetically modified and pesticide-free, which one would you choose? I thought so. On the other hand, chocolate chip cookies labeled organic are arguably not healthier than chocolate chip cookies not labeled organic – both are processed foods and an organic label – well – you see where I’m going here.
An Organic Feast
Whether feasting with thousands of organic advocates at the Feast of Fields or enjoying some organic meals from your own dining room, there is something to be said for choosing organic foods. For me, I’m a fan of buying organic produce – especially porous fruits like berries. When it comes to meat, I not only want them to be organic but also humanely and naturally raised which requires a little bit more digging on my part.
Whether you’re an organic newbie or seasoned veteran – there is something for everyone at the Feast of Fields and I am sure that the 25th Annual in 2014 will be the best celebration of them all.
- Canadian Food Inspection Agency
- Canadian Organic Growers (COG)
- Organic Council of Ontario (OCO)
- Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food
- Eat Right Ontario