heirloom tomatoes

As campaign director for Farm Aid, the Somerville, Massachusetts-based organization that represents the interests of family farms, Mark Smith is well aware of what Americans read in newspapers and see on TV each day: mad cow disease, high levels of toxins in farmed salmon, genetically engineered growth hormones in milk, rising obesity levels in children, and pesticide residue on fruits and vegetables.

Each highly publicized concern is “driving people to search out more healthful and safe food,” Smith tells OrganicAuthority.com.

It’s a message whose time has come, and nothing could please attuned medical professionals more.

“Organic foods are higher in nutrients and more easily assimilated into the body,” says Dr. Elena Michaels, a Santa Clarita, California-based naturopath and marriage and family therapist who specializes in alternative/integrative health care. “Organic produce tastes markedly better than conventionally grown produce and contains higher amounts of cancer-fighting phytonutrients than traditionally grown produce. These nutrients are able to enter our system best through foods.

“I suggest finding local farmers’ markets, where you can meet the farmers and know how the produce is grown,” she tells OrganicAuthority.com. “Eating locally grown organic produce in season helps keep our bodies more in balance with nature. If it is not in season and unavailable where you live, then it might be best not to eat it.”

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Of particular concern is the risk pesticides pose to our children.

“Pesticides in our food supply make us sick-and they especially can make children sick,” says Ann Cooper, former executive chef/director of wellness and nutrition at the Ross School in East Hampton, New York, as well as author of Bitter Harvest: A Chef’s Perspective on the Hidden Dangers in the Foods We Eat and What You Can Do About It. “The risks of ingesting chemicals and pesticides are not still fully known, so why take the risk with a growing child? Research has shown that 40% of all cancer is diet-related, and much of it can be linked to the chemicals we ingest in our food and water. Pesticides may stunt growth in children, retard normal brain growth and functions, as well as cause an array of health issues as we age.”

Rising cancer rates also alarm Dr. Michaels, and she attributes them in part to environmental issues.

“Pesticides and herbicides, as well as hormones that are given to animals-which we then eat or drink in their milk-are all xenoestrogens [chemical compounds that mimic estrogen, often found in detergents and pesticides]. They skew our hormones and affect all systems in the body,” she says. “There is no reason to eat food grown with pesticides and herbicides.”

Dr. Michaels urges her patients to pay special attention to dairy products and eggs. Read labels, she advises, and choose products that are free of growth hormones, including RBST-recombinant bovine somatotropin, a veterinary drug used to boost milk production.

Fortunately, Americans are beginning to grasp such dangers.

“All around the country, more people are buying local, family farm-identified, organic, humanely raised, high-quality food,” says Farm Aid’s Smith. “And the good news is that family farmers are moving away from the failed promises and practices of large-scale, corporate-controlled agriculture. Witness the growing number of farmers transitioning their production to include more sustainable practices, linking to consumers who want safe, wholesome food and who want to support their local family-farm food system.”

While some consumers may still balk at paying extra money for organic food, the overall investment in health and longevity is well worth the price.

“A good investment, to me, means doing something good for the earth and supporting the future of our well-being,” Ken Gootkind, director of marketing and sales for Roslyn, New York-based organic juice producer Apple & Eve, tells OrganicAuthority.com. “That said, yes-organic ingredients and manufacturing are more expensive now, but there is a growing community that is supporting the organic process and willing to pay a little more for the program. For the time being, it is more expensive to do that, but in the long run good health is always a more economical program.”