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Organic vs. Conventional | What's best to buy when going grocery-shopping

It’s the classic supermarket dilemma: buy organic or non-organic. News 3 takes you from the farm to the grocery store … a place where your well-being squares off with your wallet! (KSNV)

It’s more than a buzz word, it’s a way of life.

The decision to eat organic has become more than a commitment, it’s a rallying cry for health that’s been dropping into shopping carts nationwide. But, buying organic can be more expensive, so is it worth it?

“If somebody says, ‘should I buy organic?’ Absolutely,” said registered dietitian Molly Michelman with The Food Connection.

It all starts on the farm and it’s a full-time job for Laura and Monte Bledsoe of Quail Hollow Farm.

“There is a labor of love that goes into organic food,” said Laura.

The eight-acre farm is nestled in the desert of Moapa Valley, where temperatures soar well past 100 degrees by late morning. And yet, fresh produce is more than possible. It’s thriving.

“It’s amazing what you can grow here,” Laura said.

With the right techniques, the desert is no longer an obstacle to fresh produce.

“The cardboard keeps it nice and moist and protected,” Monte said, showing off cardboard covering plants and shielding weeds from the sun.

On this day, Monte and Laura are picking sun-ripened tomatoes.

“Isn’t that gorgeous? Look at that tomato?” they say.

It’s a complete farm from seed to plant.

“Absolutely no chemicals at all, whether they be fertilizer or pesticides or anything like that,” Laura said.

But, the Bledsoes say the magic is in the soil.

“So, we’ll walk back here and pick some bigger tomatoes and check out the compost, one of our favorite parts of the farm, the compost,” they say.

Here, a mix of garden waste, greens, and horse manure from the neighbor’s farm combine, creating an organic fertilizer.

“This compost is in the process of breaking down,” Monte said.

The Nevada sunshine has a lot to do with that.

“When you smell it, it smells almost sweet,” Laura said.

Sustainable farming as community-supported agriculture lets volunteers reap what they sow.

There were only 11 subscribers when Quail Hollow Farms opened in 2006. Now, it has more than 100 organic believers.

“It’s starting to really pick up steam right now,” Laura said.

The Organic Trade Association says organic is popular in our state. Around 85-percent of Nevadans buy organic products.

“Not just the nutrition, not just the health, the actual flavor,” Laura said.

Michelman agrees. She says buying in-season will always provide a more favorable experience. But, she says research isn’t conclusive about whether organic food is more nutritious.

“Nutrient-wise, yes, maybe in some cases but not across the board and some of the research says there’s really no difference,” Michelman said.

What is clear is the research about conventional store-bought produce and pesticides. She said many are laden with chemicals just to preserve the food.

“If somebody says, ‘should I buy organic?’ Absolutely,” Michelman said.

But with that comes a higher price and a shorter shelf-life.

“It spoils more quickly,” Michelman said.

Her recommendations include avoiding the so-called Dirty Dozen. It’s an annual list from the Environmental Working Group of foods that are high in pesticides.

The worst offenders this year: strawberries, spinach, nectarines, and apples.

There’s also a list of the so-called Clean 15, ones you don’t need to worry about.

Also, when choosing conventional produce, Michelman said variety is more than just a spice of life.

“If I eat apples every day, and they’re not organic, every day I am exposing myself to that same pesticide,” Michelman said. “I eat spinach sometimes and cucumbers sometimes, and romaine sometimes, then yes, I am exposing myself to pesticides, but not the same one over and over.”

Laura said she understands the cost of organic can be prohibitive, which is part of the reason why the farm offers volunteer work opportunities trading labor for food.

“Hand-weeding is labor intensive,” Laura said.

But, she says, she sees change on the horizon.

“The more there is a demand for it and the better we get at being organic growers, the more that cost is starting to come down and be more available to more people,” Laura said.

Choosing organic produce often means eating food that’s in-season, though, it’s hard to tell what’s actually in-season since most produce can be found all year long in the grocery store. To help sort it all out, visit the Fruits and Veggies More Matters website.

Finally, Michelman says to also wash your produce.

“If I go to the grocery store and they’ve got an organic section and they’ve got the conventional section, well, some of that pesticide residue is in the air and so some of that is going to land on the organic produce,” Michelman said.

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