How the National Organic Program affects the average consumer

I wonder how many Americans really know (or care) about what's in their food, and how many just shop for convenience, packaging, appearance, price and the influence of advertising. By that, we are not referring to the preparation of food in the stores and restaurants, but what's actually in it.

We assume nearly everyone, by now, is aware of pesticide use on our fruits and vegetables, and many are seeking out growers who don't use them. We find, however, that most people aren't aware of herbicide use in weed control on farms around the country, or how the chemicals used can frequently not be detected. But even more insidious than that, now several large American corporations such as Monsanto, Dow and Archer Daniels Midland to name only a few, are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to manipulate the genetic structure of the food we eat to make it more economical to grow, give it longer shelf life, and bring it to the stores of the world looking perfect.

Many people are under the assumption these companies, and especially the USDA, wouldn't allow anything to be sold to us for our children's consumption that could in any way harm them. Have they forgotten thalidomide, DDT, nuclear energy (tell the citizens of Chernobyl it's safe), fen-fen, or recently, hormone-replacement therapy? We have to remember that no matter how noble the goals of American corporations sound, they are ultimately driven by profit.

At this point, it is said that around 60-75 percent of nonorganic foods found in our grocery stores today contain genetically modified organisms. The producers are not currently required to label these foods and are ardently fighting legislation requiring them to do so. We strongly urge everyone to contact their representatives in Congress in support of this legislation.

Many people ask us what foods are being tweezed, and with what. Here's a brief idea of what's going on - it's by no means complete.

Potatoes have been engineered to be resistant to viral diseases by the introduction of a human gene as well as a mouse gene.

To make apples resistant to fire blight, a chicken gene was spliced in.

A flounder gene was used in tomatoes to make them tolerant to the cold.

A chicken gene has been used to make corn resistant to pests while in storage. The most famous example is "Round-up ready" corn, which has been genetically altered to be resistant to the herbicide Round-up. The chemical can then be sprayed over the fields of corn, effectively eliminating all plant matter except the corn. One drawback to this, however, is the appearance of so-called super-weeds. Seems like nature will always prevail.

So, what can you do to be certain the food you and your family are eating is as safe and clean as possible? Buy organic.

National standards put into place in 2002 assure consumers, through a certification program of producers and handlers, that food labeled "organic" be free of genetically modified organisms, synthetic pesticides , fertilizers and sewer sludge. There is a three-year transition period wherein the producer must document compliance before becoming certified.

Organic farmers must also show they are improving, not depleting, the soil quality by keeping records of everything applied to it. They must also set up a "farm plan" showing the crops they plan to grow, how they'll be rotated, and what cover crops will be used. (Organic farmers don't leave the soil bare. Cover crops prevent erosion from water, wind and especially the sun, which can bake out nutrients and kill the necessary soil micro-organisms.) The farm plan also shows how the farmer will plant to provide a habitat for beneficial insects that keep the garden in balance.

Organic farmers don't want to kill everything. We expect some damage from insects; only when things get out of balance do we get infestations. Northern Nevada beneficial insects include ladybugs, green lacewings, small wasps, praying mantises and some ground beetles.

Records must also show that organic seeds are used. All inputs (soil additives such as fertilizers, bone meal, gypsum, fish emulsion, soil sulfur, etc.) must be listed with their uses and dates. The farmers must also show they are not ruining water quality. A soil test is also required for the certification applicant, showing the amount of organic matter in the soil, what nutrients and elements are present in the soil, and what may be needed to balance it.

They must keep an audit trail from the seed to the consumer so the latter is assured of a clean product by seeing the USDA seal. The application is then filled out, the fee paid, and a certifying agency (in our case, the Nevada Department of Agriculture) will perform an on-site inspection to assure compliance. Then a certificate is issued. With this certification, the consumer knows these steps have been taken and a qualified third party has acted on their behalf.

Prior to the enactment of the National Organic Program in 2002, there was no standardization. In California, for instance, one simply had to pay a fee to be "registered organic." There was no burden of proof. There were many certifying agencies (CCOF, Oregon Tilth, etc.) with different standards.

It is through this national standardization that consumers can be confident in knowing their produce was grown in a safe and clean manner, agreed upon by a large group of organic growers, inspectors, handlers and consumers. As with anything that requires the consensus of many, there are those who are unhappy with the final program. But it is the only way we can know what we are eating, and we urge all of you to support those who continue to be "certified organic."

Remember, eat your greens! They grow particularly well here in Nevada.

Green Frittata

1/2 onion (more or less, to taste)

3 cloves garlic (more or less, to taste - I've never had too much garlic)

1 bunch greens (see above parenthetical phrases)

6 eggs

1/2 cup grated cheese

Chop onion and garlic and saute until translucent; add chopped greens and cook until soft. In the meantime, scramble six eggs with milk or water, then add grated cheese and mix well with the eggs. Pour over the cooked greens and put in the oven at about 350 degrees until puffed up and brown on top. Feel free to embellish.

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Anyone interested in locally grown organic vegetables can call the following:

Steve and Marcia Litsinger

Churchill Butte Horticulture

P.O. Box 1096

Dayton, NV 89403

(775) 721-6068

Marcia and I are at the limit of our current production. We are accepting names for our subscriptions on a waiting list.

Jim and Tina Smith

100 Burke Drive

Wellington, NV 89444

(775) 465-2549

The Smiths are setting up a subscription service and are currently accepting names. They will also be selling their produce at farmers markets this summer.

Ray and Virginia Johnson

Custom Gardens

3701 Elm St.

Silver Springs, NV 89429

(775) 577-2069

The Johnsons' subscriptions are also sold out and have a waiting list. They plan to sell their produce at their Silver Springs farm stand from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays. They also offer organic transplants.

Char Hendrickson

Sierra Nevada Organic Orchards

7425 Franktown Road

Washoe Valley, NV 89704

(775) 885-9522

Last we knew, Hendrickson was selling her apples, in season, on-farm and wholesale

Bill and Korena Mewaldt

Mewaldt's Organic Produce

1750 McLean Road

Fallon, NV 89406

(775) 867-3469

The Mewaldts currently supply 4th Street Bistro with their produce.

For information about genetic modification, go to the California Certified Organic Farmers Web site There you'll find CCOF Magazine, Summer 2003. Also go to

For information on Nevada's organic program or the USDA organic program, contact Peggy McKie at the Nevada Department of Agriculture, 350 Capital Hill Ave., Reno, NV 89502-2923. Telephone (775) 688-1182, ext. 243. Web site:

Steve and Marcia Litsinger are owners and operators of an organic farm, Churchill Butte Horticulture in Stagecoach.


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