Hundreds of events are taking place across Canada from September 21 to 28 to celebrate Organic Week 2013. From Winterton, Newfoundland, to Victoria, BC, the benefits of organic farming practices will be shared with consumers—along with delicious opportunities to sample organic food and drink.

Back to the farm

Sponsored by the Canadian Organic Growers, the Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA), and the Canadian Health Food Association, Organic Week is the largest national celebration of organic farming, food, and other products. Some of the planned events include farm and vineyard tours, farmers’ markets, harvest festivals, dinners, and lots of fun educational opportunities for the whole family.

Recent research commissioned by COTA shows that the organic sector in Canada grew to a healthy $3.7 billion in 2012. The organic food market has tripled its growth since 2006. More than 50 percent of Canadians purchase organic food products each week. British Columbians especially love organics, with two-thirds reporting they purchase organic products weekly.

Organic foods and products are the most regulated of all food categories in Canada, ensuring that they’re healthy for us and for the environment. Organic Week is a great opportunity to learn how organic foods are grown, and to take stock of what we’re putting into and onto our bodies.

Why choose organic?

Organic produce provides health benefits for humans and the environment. A prescribed system of farming practices must be followed in order for produce to be deemed “organic.” Organic products are as noteworthy for what they don’t contain as for what they do.

Organic produce must not contain

  • toxic and persistent pesticides or fertilizers
  • antibiotics
  • synthetic hormones
  • artificial ingredients
  • genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

Pesticides hurt people

The Ontario College of Family Physicians released a report titled “2012 Systematic Review of Pesticide Health Effects.” In it, researchers reviewed all relevant studies published on pesticides since 2003. The following points are among their findings.

Fetal exposure

  • Non-organochlorine pesticides may be associated with low birth weight.
  • Pesticide exposure may lead to neural tube defects, congenital diaphragmatic hernia, and hypospadias (abnormally located opening of the penis).

Childhood exposure

  • 12 to 36 months: organochlorine pesticide exposure led to psychomotor deficits
  • 3 to 10 years: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder, and reduced IQ resulting from previous fetal exposure

Exposure to organophosphates and carbamate insecticides has also been associated with an increased risk of asthma in children and adults. Decreased lung function has also been associated with herbicide and insecticide use by farmers.

Organic products don’t contain toxic pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides, thereby helping to reduce our exposure to these dangerous chemicals.

Ensuring environmental protection

Organic farming not only provides a safer food source for people, but also embraces sustainable production practices that care for the earth. Canada’s national organic standards include the following requirements:

  • protecting the environment
  • maintaining long-term soil health
  • minimizing soil erosion
  • decreasing pollution
  • treating animals humanely

A natural choice

Choosing organic products is becoming easier all the time. Foods and beverages, personal care products, nutritional supplements, pet products, gardening products, linens, and clothing are all available in organic options.

Organic products can be found locally at

  • natural health food stores
  • farmers’ markets
  • food home delivery programs
  • community supported agriculture

Organic Week provides a great opportunity to get close to the earth and see how our food is produced safely, sustainably, and organically.

Buy organic and save money

Buying organic doesn’t mean we have to break the bank. With a few tips, shopping for organic produce can be an affordable option.

  • Shop at local farmers’ markets or buy directly from the farm through community supported agriculture programs.
  • Form or join an organic produce co-op with family, friends, or neighbours.
  • Check out your local natural health food store.
  • Eat in-season produce.
  • Make a meal plan and stick to it.
  • Eat more beans, lentils, and legumes, and less meat.
  • Buy in bulk for nuts, legumes, grains, beans, flours, et cetera.
  • Grow some of your own organic produce. Tomatoes, peppers, herbs, microgreens, and strawberries can all be grown in pots or containers for those of us who are space-challenged.

What does “local” really mean?

As we strive to reduce our carbon footprint, eating locally has become a popular concept. In May 2013, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced it will be conducting a review of food labelling guidelines and regulations. One term the CFIA will redefine is “local.”

While it works on a new definition of “local,” the CFIA has adopted this controversial interim definition that expands the distance products may travel and still be considered local:

  • “food produced in the province or territory in which it is sold, or
  • food sold across provincial borders within 50 km of the originating province or territory”

The previous definition of “local” or “locally grown” stated that

  • “the food originated within a 50 km radius of the place where it was sold, or
  • the food sold originated within the same local government unit (e.g. municipality) or adjacent government unit”

The CFIA says the change is being made to reflect changing consumer expectations and current food production methods. Skeptics claim the change is a marketing ploy to expand the market for food deemed to be locally grown.

Celebrate

Get in on the many Organic Week 2013 activities. Check your natural health store for locally sponsored events. Many organic farms and wineries are throwing open their gates for tours and food events across Canada. Check out the Organic Week 2013 website to find an event near you.

About the Author

Ellen Niemer is an editor and creative services liaison at alive. She believes that eating organic is the simplest way to avoid GMOs.