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Discriminating shoppers say no to pesticides

From bananas and squash to lettuce and chickens organic food has grown in popularity, despite the multitude of studies declaring how unhealthfully Americans eat.

From Raley’s at the “Y” to Safeway at midtown, South Lake Tahoe supermarkets have answered the demand with more variety in separate produce sections.

And because of a federal mandate that took effect Oct. 21 the organic foods have become easier to find. The National Organic Program requires no mixing of organic and nonorganic foods. The rules also prohibit the use of synthetic substances and petroleum-based fertilizers. Animals must be given organic feed, have access to the outdoors and receive no antibiotics or growth hormones to qualify as an organic byproduct.



During the Thanksgiving holiday, Raley’s Assistant Produce Manager Al Foxworthy noticed the yams, yellow onions and especially the celery moved at a considerable rate.

“The most common thing (I’m hearing) is people tell me they notice a difference in taste,” Foxworthy said.




Raley’s has made an effort to sell more organic items in the last three years, Foxworthy said, adding he expects the selection to expand.

“It’s all coming,” Foxworthy said, listing avocados as one item he anticipates to be a major mover when they hit the shelves.

In the last few years, prices have dropped on organics, and they’re expected to decrease as more growers offer additional foods to place alongside the common items like apples and pears.

Now if only the education keeps up with the supply.

Foxworthy reminds shoppers the organic label doesn’t negate the need for washing. And in terms of price, most organics are priced between 5 and 30 percent more than other grocery items.

Ruth Challburg, who shopped at Raley’s Wednesday, said she usually passes on organic foods because she “can’t afford to eat healthy.”

But Foxworthy pointed out some items are priced evenly with nonorganics.

Safeway Produce Manager Steve Stetson said he’s noticed the popularity grow at his store, too. Hence, the number of items offered have multiplied on supermarket shelves.

“I feel people want to make a health-conscious choice,” Stetson said.

What’s the most unusual item? Organic garlic has joined the traditional foods like lettuce.

This is old hat to natural food stores like Grass Roots, which has shown no dip in business despite supermarkets’ growing interest.

When shoppers ask for something exotic at Raley’s, produce workers send them to Grass Roots.

The store carries everything from Thai coconuts to dates, and prices remain competitive with nonorganics at other stores — especially for California natural foods stores. Many of the growers are located in the Golden State, where the trend has appeared to catch on quicker than in the Midwest.

“I guess we’re lucky out here; we have the variety,” said Peggy Cooley, Grass Roots produce manager. She recently visited Indiana and noted organic blueberries sold for $5 a pint at a natural foods store.

Cooley expects the traditional foods like squash and cranberries to move over the holiday season.

For organic meats, Grass Roots sends its customers to Overland Meats. Piggybacking off the trend for carnivores to eat natural, owner Mark Cohen sold out on his 17,000 pounds of organic turkeys over the Thanksgiving holiday. The store’s salsa has gained the distinction of selling as a gift.

Organics represent a potentially lucrative market, with growth in retail sales topping 20 percent annually since 1990, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

The USDA certifies farmers and food processors as organic, but certification is not an endorsement of one method of food production over another.

Organic products are sold in 73 percent of all conventional grocery stores and nearly 20,000 natural food stores.

Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at swood@tahoedailytribune.com


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