What does organic mean? A really fast, really easy primer to help you start the new year just right

One of my resolutions this year is to buy more organic produce.

Only, well, I'm not 100% sure what organic means. And what I should be looking for.

So I went and found out. And this is what I learned.

The really fast, really easy introduction to organic
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation." And, before a product can be labeled organic, "... a government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards."

And, even better, these standards also apply to imported foods labeled organic.

How can you tell if produce is organic: Look for the USDA Organic Seal
Now, to tell if foods are organic, look for the USDA organic seal. Use of the seal is voluntary, but I'm thinking any grower who has gone to the trouble of growing and certifying organic food will likely use it.

The important thing to remember here is just because a farmer says their produce is organic, doesn't mean it is certified organic. And if it is not certified — meaning there has been no third-party USDA verification — then there is no guarantee. In other words, it is just the farmer's word. And the farmer can define organic any way they wish.

Organic = natural, right?
Erm, no. Only organic food is organic.

But is organic food healthier?
According to the Organic Trade Association, hardly a disinterested third-party, "There is mounting evidence at this time to suggest that organically produced foods may be more nutritious." I have no proof. But common sense suggests to me that it is healthier. After all, which would you rather eat, a bowlful of cherries or a bowlful or chemicals? I pick the organic every time.

Happy, healthy, organic new year!

* * * * *

Hey, just tripped across today's entry at Slashfood. They found an article that lists "organic" as one of the most overused words. So look for the USDA organic seal. It is the only thing that counts. (And thanks, Slashfood!).