a new year's resolution: going organic

I've been meaning to switch our household over to organic foods for a while now, but something always seems to block my efforts. Convenience is the biggest obstacle for me. Like most families, I'm always in a hurry and have both limited time and a limited budget. Basically, if there are two products on the shelf, one organic and the other not, I would always choose the organic one. Anything beyond that was asking too much. But no more: I hereby declare 2014 the year we finally go organic!

THE APPEAL OF ORGANIC

My interest to eat more fresh veggies & fruits began with my first pregnancy. I've never been a healthy eater. I'm not an over-eater by any means, but growing up we didn't have a lot of fresh produce available; I survived on heavily processed snacks and frozen meals. My husband, on the other hand, spent hours in his parent's garden and made it his mission to convert me. I knew when I was "eating for two" he was right, and decided to jump on board. I'm sooooo glad I did! We got a lot of the vegetables from his parents, and the rest we found at our local grocery store. It was a start, and I'm happy to say I've made some pretty significant lifestyle changes since then.

WHERE TO START

Although I've always been intrigued with going organic, it was when I first met Kathleen & Justin, owners of Smiling Tree Toys, that I started to think about it more and more. Their commitment to not only consuming organic foods, but also creating sustainable goods for others made me realize my excuse was invalid. That doesn't mean switching was going to be easy though! The biggest problem for me is availability. We do have an excellent local grocery store, but I encountered problems finding organic items there, and some products (organic or otherwise) were simply unavailable completely. Keep in mind that I live in a very rural area, no where near a Whole Foods or anything similar! Being the online-shopping addict that I am, I took to the internet. There are so many resources available for buying local if you are willing to look. LocalHarvest.org has become my best friend. Some local areas, like mine, even produce a publication each year with vendors for organic products. However, even with such a great resource for finding local vendors, I was still coming up short on a few items. I dug a little deeper and found (much to my surprise!) many producers of organic foods, including perishables, ship their products nationwide! Done and done.

SHOP LOCAL

Of course the best alternative for the environment is to buy local. therefore bypassing shipping costs and resources. Here in southern Minnesota, nearly every city has a weekly farmer's market if you're unable to grow your own garden. Food Coops and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) are other great alternatives if they're available to you. Any of these options are great in the summer/fall when fresh produce is abundant, but winter is a completely different story. Nothing is in season, so if you don't freeze or can your own in the fall, you're likely limited in your choices and the cost can be pretty expensive. It pays to plan ahead to prepare for the off-season.

BEYOND LOCAL

When people think "organic", they usually associate it with produce, free-range chickens, hormone-free milk, and grass-fed beef. Don't forget about cereals and other prepared foods though! My daughter loves the Annie's Homegrown brand of foods; mac-n-cheesefruit snacks, and bunny grahams are a few of her favorites. Be sure to do your research when buying prepared foods though: unfortunately not all companies that claim to be organic actually are.

OUR SOLUTION

I'm happy to say that although we're not completely organic yet, we have a pretty good start. Eggs and grass-fed beef are both purchased from a local farmer, and as I've said most of our vegetable needs are covered. Non-perishables I usually buy online, and fruit and dairy products are organic from the grocery store, when available. My husband is an avid outdoors man, so our freezer is stocked full of wild salmon, walleye, venison, and other wild game. I'm still on the search for a provider of free-range chickens....and I hope to write a follow-up post about organic household products soon!

WORDS OF WISDOM

What have a learned from this experience? My advice to you is to start small. Trying to go completely organic overnight might be too much to take on. Start with the items that are easily available to you, or the ones you consume the most. The "Dirty Dozen" is a list of the most contaminated produce- it's an excellent place to start. As a general rule of thumb, buy organic the foods which you eat the skin, such as apples & tomatoes, and conventional for the ones you usually peel, such as bananas and avocados.

{RESOURCES}

LocalHarvest.org // Online database connects buyers with local organic farmers, CSAs, suppliers, and restaurants.

EatWellGuide.org // Another tool for connecting vendors with end users.

NatureBox.com // Monthly subscription service for nutritious, minimally-processed snacks. Not all are organic, but many are and their offerings are continually increasing.

Amys.com // Producer of prepared dishes from organic/non-GMO ingredients.

Annies.com // Entres, snacks, condiments and more, all organic and produced with sustainability at the forefront.

WholeFoodsMarket.com // Grocer of organic foods, emphasis on local, and committed to the environment.

Our Organic | Foodie Pinterest Board // Even more suppliers, links, resources, ideas, & tips. Updated frequently!

{APPS}

Dirty Dozen // Tells you which produce you should buy organic and which you could save money up purchasing conventional

Farmers Market Finder // Pretty self-explanatory

Locavore // Tells you which fruits/vegetables are in season in your area and where you can purchase them.

Buycott // Scan a product's UPC code, and this app will tell you who produces it (as well as their parent company, if applicable). You can be assured your spending power is going to responsible companies.