Thoughts on Organic Tomatoes in the Winter

When people buy organic, they know they are not only making a better choice for their family, but also for the planet. Organic farming practices are, after all, sustainable.

Turns out that things are not as clear cut.

Take a recent  New York Times Organic Agriculture May Be Outgrowing Its Ideals:

… as more Americans buy foods with the organic label, the products are increasingly removed from the traditional organic ideal: produce that is not only free of chemicals and pesticides but also grown locally on small farms in a way that protects the environment.

The article describes the blooming business of organic tomatos in the desert of the Baja peninsula in Mexico. Not only are the tomatoes shipped thousands of miles to US markets during winter, the water table is drying up and may cause irreparable damage to the ecosystem. Additionally, the same crops are grown year over year without crop rotation, essentially creating a monoculture.

So while the the tomatoes will be certified organic by the UDSA, the underlying principles behind organic agriculture are being left behind. Essentially, organic farming is no longer necessarily sustainable farming.

Speaking recently with an organic farmer providing produce to 200 families through her CSA, we learned about the clash of ideals with reality – consumers want tomatoes all year round. Very few people today want to eat by season, or by region. Our palates have become accustomed to a rich variety of foods, flown from all over the world and any time of the year.

What to do at the supermarket:

If you try to eat locally, you will automatically be eating seasonally as well. But you may be limiting your choices quite severely, especially if living in the northern parts of the country.

What are your thoughts on the intersection of organic / local / seasonal ?

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  • Megavoce

    This is something I struggle with EVERY time I shop. These days I’m tending towards local over organic. But winter in New England does make that tough…If I must buy flown-in food, I favor American produce over foreign.

  • FedUpWithFoodieNonsense

    Organic is a silly farce dreamed up to sell overpriced stuff. Local is too. Not to mention how impractical locovorism really is unless Fooducate can publish some recipes for a meal of snow and slush for people living in northern climates. Hint: don’t eat too much yellow snow — it will trigger your migraines. Foodies are a real hoot.

    • guest

      If you are sick of foodies:

      1.  Don’t subscribe to the blog, or choose not to read it.
      2.  Refrain from commenting on a subject you obviously don’t know anything about.  Basically to just spread negativity.
      3.  Keep eating the crap you choose.  When you become sick or have a family member become ill perhaps you will seek the knowledge you lack.

  • Emilie

    Check out Lufa Farms (https://lufa.com/en). They supply 700 Montreal families per week with fresh, locally grown produce, even during winter… Their greenhouse is built on an industry’s rooftop and the collect heat not only from the sun, but also from that building! No pesticides are used but they aren’t labeled organic because they use hydroponics and add nutriments in the water they use… Anyway, cool idea for big cities. Fresh local tomatoes in winter are possible!

  • Guest

    It is hard to stick to eating in season when we are used to eating whatever we want whenever we want but we also miss the joy of enjoying a favourite food for a short time.  I love cherry season for this reason and look forward to it all year.  Same with clementines.  But up here in the north we would have to eat canned fruits and vegetables for half the year if we only ate locally I think.  Hmmm, not sure many people would be willing to do that.  Which is why I am looking forward to going back to my native Australia in the next year or so where we can grow food (organically and sustainably of course) year round!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kelsie-Gray/11515990 Kelsie Gray

      It’s easy to avoid canned fruits/veggies in the winter months, with a little planning in the spring/summer/fall. :) Onions, garlic, and winter squash/pumpkins will keep for MONTHS in a cool, dark place like a garage, shed, or basement. Tomatoes, berries, green beans, peppers, summer squash, etc. can be frozen (WAY better than canned). Potatoes are also long keepers, as are apples, if done correctly. You don’t even have to have a garden.  Farmer’s markets and farm stands are a great way to get “imperfect” produce on the cheap. One of my friends bought thirty pounds of organic tomatoes for TEN DOLLARS from a vendor at the farmer’s market.  They were bruised or cracked, but with an afternoon of work, they became gallons of delicious tomato puree and sauce that will be eaten as soup and spaghetti all winter long. :) People have been “putting food by” for centuries.  My basement is filled with winter squash and garlic braids and my freezer is stuffed with tomato sauce and frozen beans. Still have cabbages and rutabagas in the garden.  Will I be happy to eat a vine ripe tomato come June?  Absolutely!  In the meantime, though, I’m definitely eating well.

  • http://twitter.com/OnNutrition Carol Plotkin

    I gave up eating fresh tomatoes in the winter. I buy canned, but have discovered that I have to buy organic canned tomatoes to avoid the BPA lined cans. Are these organic canned tomaotes the same as the ones grown in Mexico? Who knows? Fedupwithfoodienonsense clearly doesn’t know anything about agriculture. There are many winter crops grown in the northern regions of the US and storage of root vegetables.

    • PureFoodOrStarve

      Canned food is processed food. Processed food is certain death, is it not?

  • Bezcs1

    Please let’s not get politically correct here about what is good or not for the planet. Probably worse for the planet are plastic water bottles, worse for the country is buying non-American cars and driving everywhere – even a corner store.

    Seasonal and local fruit and veg are always the best as they boast most nutrients, are a good value … And eliminate the need to buy non-American.

  • Holly

    This is a tough one for me… I try to shop at the local health food store for organic produce… as well as the semi-local vegetable stand which is a much further drive for me (I’m in suburbia)… the food is better at the stand, but my kids only want certain foods and I fight to expand their palates.  OK–for this week’s blogs… I’m not serving Velveeta Cheesy Skillets, I’m not smoking…as a working, busy mom, how much guilt do I have to take?  They want to eat green beans–who am I to say no, just because they are out of season here?  I’m thrilled they’ll eat them.

    Since I’m 25 miles from Mexico, I kind of feel like it’s local  :)  But I wish we could clarify organic labeling and take the fight to the FDA, so when we make the effort to buy organic we know it’s being done right.

    I want to continue to learn from Fooducate, but does it have to be the “guilt of the day?”  :)  As far as my thoughts on the “intersection” described, I say, do what you can to be healthy, eat right, and eat locally–while understanding most of us live in urban areas and can’t do it all, and we don’t need to return to the days of Scurvy just because some live in the snow belt.

    • Anonymous

      clarification of “organic” try the wiki definition/explanation, it’s reasonably close to what the actual law says http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_food   It’s not a difficult definition.  If your kids like green beans, what’s wrong w/frozen if they’re out of season? 

      I’m one of those who don’t get it–I don’t understand why you would need to eat “fresh” tomatoes in the winter.  Why not used tomatoes that have been canned when they were in season?  Or dried?  If you’re using tomatoes for salads, well, is it reallyh that hard, that extreme & unreasonable an adjustment to try other veg for winter salads?   Are you sure you even know all of the different kids of veg & fruit that are available in the winter?   Pears store well so you can eat some varieties  pretty far into the winter.  Ditto for some varieties of onions, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, etc. 

      A number of years ago, I read a book called “People with Dirty Hands”  the author had interviewed someone who lived in VT and was raising carrots in VT, during the winter in an unheated green house.   So it would seem that it’s possible to grow some veg in a cold part of the US during the winter. 

      Freeze, can & dry.  Find out what overwinters in your areas.  Read “Farmer Boy”.  Almanzo Wilder, the “farmer boy”  grew up on a farm near Malone, NY (in Burke, NY).   I had a friend who grew up near Malone  That is one really cold place.   Yet Almanzo’s family, eating about 95% – 98% local foods, organically grown, seemed to eat very well.  And no refrigerators.   So perhaps we can manage 50% or so local and/or organic & eat some frozen & canned organic foods sometimes?    To avoid buying “freshly shipped” out of season whether organically grown or not. 

      • Holly

        I think you have some good ideas… Thank you!  I do the frozen green beans already.  :)  I’m big on winter pears in my salads, too… I’m trying, but I’m not at 95%… 

        See blog above for the “organic” definition issue–Fooducate is commenting that organic farming is harming the environment, too… that’s frustrating, when, as a consumer, we *think* we are doing a good thing for both us and the land when we buy organic, and then find it’s not so rosy…

        I’m in the process of tilling the soil for my own little veggie garden, so wish me luck and I will try to continue to learn.

  • Mike Legge

    Your blogs are always the best. I have a problem with organic food as it is expensive and uses agricultural land less successfully than the scorned “Agro Bus”. I suspect that, although it points to better environmental long term care of the land, it will not be able to feed other than the well heeled. It is an affectation and delusion to eat  food out of season and pretend that  you really care. I love eating avocados in January.

  • Darryl Miglio

    I’ve missed the official definition that organic must be sustainable.  It is bad business to dry up the water table and to not rotate crops. If that is the companys intention then they won’t be in business for very long.

    We buy from the local CSA throughout the winter, there are no fresh tomatoes in the winter here.  There are lots of them in my freezer though.

    • Guest

      Freezers burn a ton of electricity which burns tons of coal which pollutes everything. Only a tiny fraction of electricity is from hydro or wind or solar. So, your tomatoes are more damaging to the environment and no more sustainable than the irrigated ones from Mexico. Is this set of concepts too difficult for you to get your mind around, or what? Foodies are a real hoot.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kelsie-Gray/11515990 Kelsie Gray

    I haven’t bought a supermarket tomato in six years–ever since I started growing my own.  From September-June, I do without fresh tomatoes.  I preserve my harvest through sun-drying and freezing, and when I’m jonesing for delicious tomatoes, I head to the freezer…not the supermarket.  You CAN live without fresh tomatoes (or watermelon or squash or corn or strawberries) in the off seasons.  We’re just so used to having anything we want whenever we want it, that we can’t fathom not being able to make the exact recipe we want for lack of fresh, local, seasonal ingredients.  

  • Christine

    I own a health food store and for two years we only carried seasonal produce. We had to start carrying tomatoes in the winter because our customers actually threatened to stop shopping with us. We try to educate them on the benefits of eating seasonally and locally. Unfortunately most people are so used to eating white tasteless tomatoes year round in the grocery store they don’t know what a delicacy a vine ripened tomato is. It’s a shame.

  • Christine

    I own a health food store and for two years we only carried seasonal produce. We had to start carrying tomatoes in the winter because our customers actually threatened to stop shopping with us. We try to educate them on the benefits of eating seasonally and locally. Unfortunately most people are so used to eating white tasteless tomatoes year round in the grocery store they don’t know what a delicacy a vine ripened tomato is. It’s a shame.