Sunday, November 13, 2011

"An Organic Orientation"- Beginners Guide to Having the Freshest Organic Food- by Evan Thomas

Organic Produce Grown in a Grow Annapolis Community Garden 

About the Author...
Evan is an architecture student studying urban planning with hopes of creating sustainable communities in the near future. He loves the outdoors, especially surfing, hiking and skiing.

Evan has recently paired with to create a Farmers Market Database and a Plants Database. These interactive tools are intended to help users easily find markets and plants based on the criteria that matter to them. The markets listed in the tool come from the US Department of Agriculture’s farmer’s markets database, and if a market is not listed in the tool, anyone can easily add or edit a market. Please feel free to add a review of the market too! Both tools are constantly being improved.

You can contact Evan by email at Evanthomas1 (at) gmail (dot) com

Evan contacted me to gain some insight on the Farmers Market Finder Tool. I love to check out markets when I'm on vacation, or out for a day trip.  I always get frustrated when searching for location, and hours of operation. I am so excited to see a searchable database of markets. Please check out the site and help Evan to improve the data! 

A guide to finding your way to healthy food that’s grown without chemicals and pesticides.

You’ve got two options when it comes to eating organic: grow your own, or shop for it.

The decision to buy versus grow organic relies in part on where you live, but doesn’t depend on it. Whereas urbanites benefit from proximity to farmer’s markets and grocery stores, rural dwellers have the space to plant. On the other hand, cities inspire creative spatial planning, and suburbs often attract the best farmers markets.

So what does this mean for finding organics in a city or suburban area?

Every Sunday (and the 6 days in-between) thousands of people visit farmers markets across the U.S. in search of the finest and freshest ingredients. Finding the best farmers markets shouldn’t be too hard considering how popular organic food has become in the last decade. In New York alone, over 30 markets dot the city streets of Manhattan selling everything from baked goods to cheese to seafood and vegetables. So there’s bound to be one close to your home. But for the more adventurous, growing plants with edible berries and seeds in the city just takes some planning.

No matter where you live, the benefits of eating organic food are well worth the time invested in planning. Here’s a quick guide to your options for eating organically grown foods.

Organic Gardening
Setting up an organic garden first means picking a plot. In cities, limited space drives creativity in garden planning; building indoor gardens inspire the enterprising organic grower. Community gardens continue to pop up around the cities, making this a viable plan for beginners.

Check out our local community gardening group Grow Annapolis!

The most important thing to remember is the size of the space available to you. Every kind of plant requires a different amount of space, and city gardens put heavy constraints on how spread out your plants can be. Look for plants that will fit your environment: plants with small root systems, plants that tolerate moderate temperatures and most importantly, herbs, vegetables and fruits you love to eat. Tomato plants, lettuce family plants, pepper family plants, and common herbs (thanks, Simon & Garfunkel) are great for small spaces to get you started.

14th and U Farmers Market in Washington, D.C.

In gardening, and especially organic gardening, soil is one of the most important contributors to the health of your plants. Pay close attention to what kind of soil you buy for your pots or frame; organic means no chemicals or pesticides. And once you’ve planted the seeds to begin growing, use only water – no pesticides or growth aids – to take care of your plants.

Find plants for your garden that help each other as well. Planting other herbs and flowers in your garden can help the health of your other plants: garlic plants, alyssum, borage, mint and lavender all provide health benefits in warding off bugs, worms and disease in other common fruits, vegetables and herbs.

Shopping At Farmers Markets
If you can’t grow your own organics, you’ll need to know where to shop for them. Farmers markets offer great opportunities to find organic food. When you find a farmers market you want to visit, remember these tips for your next trip:

1. Go early: We’ve all heard the expression the early bird gets the worm. Shopping at farmers markets is no different. The earlier you can make it, the more selection you’ll have. If you’re looking for fruits and vegetables, you can take your pick of the entire selection as well. Waiting until the afternoon risks giving up the juiciest fruits, heartiest vegetables and even missing the market entirely.

2. Bring a bag: Make sure to bring plenty of reusable bags along for all your purchases. Vendors may or may not provide bags – you’ll probably be hard pressed to hear anyone asking, “paper or plastic?’ Either way, you won’t be wasting any of that paper or plastic if you bring your own.

3. Make it Organic: Watch out for labels on all the products at the market, and make sure to ask questions. Not everything will be organic, so read the labels first to find out how the fruit or vegetable was grown. If it’s not labeled, ask the vendor how they grow their products and if they have anything organic.

4. Meet Your Farmer: Farmers markets offer the opportunity to meet the person who’s growing your food. Don’t be shy – introduce yourself!

5. Bring Cash: You’ve left that plastic bag at home, so leave the plastic card at home too. While some vendors may accept cards, it’s better not to risk it. Bring cash and you’ll be safe.

6. Try Something New: You’ll find all the stalwart food groups at farmers markets: tomatoes, apples, carrots, lettuce and corn. But some the best choice could be something you’ve never tried before; farmers markets bring those bizarre and delicious seldom heard of foods together with the popular ones. Now’s your chance – take the risk!

7. Talk A Stroll: Especially if it’s your first time at a certain farmers market, walk the whole market before you settle in to buy something. This way, you’ll get to see all the vendors and their products so you know exactly what you’ll want to get. Make your purchases at the end of your tip.

All Photos by Robin Riebman and Chris Rausch
Stay Tuned! Next week there will be another guest post, and Thanksgiving is right around the corner. 
Please check out Grow Annapolis for more information on local community gardening projects.

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