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22 July 2013

How do you choose the food you buy?

Hello everyone! We've had a couple of special visitors staying with us these past few days, my nephew Daniel and his son Johnathan. Johnathan is just 9 months old so it was lovely to welcome a new family member to our home and to give Danny a much needed break.

- - - ♥ - - - 


There seems to have been a sharp rise in the number of products labelled "organic" on supermarket shelves in the past couple of years. Often I am asked if the weekly shopping should include organic fruit, vegetables, meat and chicken, as well as the newer products we're seeing now - butter, cheese, wine and tinned goods. I don't want to advise anyone as to what they should buy. We're all so different, we have different meeds, tastes and incomes and we all know that "organic" comes at a price.

I know I'm lucky to live in Australia and to pinpoint it more closely, in the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast. Not only do we have a beautiful climate and adequate rainfall here to grow a wide variety of backyard food, year-long, we also have a lot of producers' markets and small local markets. Within a short distance from where I live there is an organic supermarket and butcher and a food co-op with a lot of organic produce such as milk, cheese, grains, flour, dried fruit, chocolate, tea and coffee. Just up the road we have a dairy and whenever I drive past on that back road, I see those healthy goats and Guernsey cows roaming freely over rolling hills. It's not organic but it's local and fresh.

So for me, it's not a question of where do I find it? - it's easy to find. The question here is do I buy it?


Like most of us, I didn't really question "organic"when I first came to this way of living. To me then, it was premium and what I wanted to buy. But in the years since, I've thought a lot about what "organic" means and if I should tweak my budget, and go without other things, to buy mainly organic food.

The answer for me now, is no. When I have a choice, I prefer to buy fresh and local.


The term "organic" means different things in different places. Here in Australia, producers apply for organic certification and then have to undergo a series of inspections and, all things going well, they get their certification and operate according to those standards. There are also producers who say they're organic, and might very well be, but are not certified. I think there is a diverse understanding of the term as well. Some people think that organic produce has been grown without the use of fertilisers and insecticides. But there are a number of "natural" fertilisers and a short list of acceptable insecticides used to grow organic produce. We use pyrethrum spray here - it's made from daisies and it's an acceptable insecticide for organic growers. We think of the fruit and vegetables we grow here as being organic but we use homemade fertilisers, Dipel and pyrethrum. They're all seen as acceptable but we don't have to follow any standards, we are simply making what we believe are the right choices to produce our own healthy food.

Now when I think of organic food I think not only of the synthetic chemical means of production but also elements that include social factors and logistics as well. Now it's not a question of whether my tomatoes have been sprayed, it's much more than that. Is food organic if the people producing it are paid next to nothing? Is food still organic is it's been flown from one side of the world - from place of production to place of sale? Shouldn't food miles play a part in what is seen as "organic"? Can I still consider my food organic if my apples, potatoes, onions, or whatever, have been stored for months in a cold room? I have had a shift in thinking and now I don't just rely on a label to tell me something is organic, I also include my own questions about origin, transportation, means of production and the workers who produced it.



When we buy our food, I think we should not only look at the health component, which takes in whether is was grown organically or not, we should also consider how far it's travelled from point of production to your door, how it's packaged, and where that packaging came from. We should consider the means of production and the workers who produced it. "Organic" means more than chemicals and price. It also means social justice and sustainability.

We need to think about animals slaughtered for our food. I want the eggs and meat I eat to come from creatures that have lived a decent life. I'd rather never eat those products again if it meant I was supporting and helping to perpetuate cruelty in the form of caged poultry, gestation pens or whatever else.


Crikey, it sounds like I'm trying to complicate buying a bag of potatoes and a pork chop but what I'm hoping to do is to start a conversation about how we choose the food we buy. For me, genuine "free range", fresh and local is premium now and it outweighs organic from another country, or even another state. I know I'm lucky to live where there is a wide variety of healthy food, in addition to our backyard produce, but that variety and choice brings important decision-making with it. I'd love to know your thoughts on this. Do you question how healthy and ecologically-sound organic produce is? Do you buy it if it's from another country? Have you, like me, replaced "organic" with fresh and local? Do you factor in the problem of animal cruelty or transport and food miles?  I look forward to reading your comments.

63 comments:

  1. I prefer to buy like you. I find my local outlets and try to support them as much as possible. Some of them will also be organic, so I win all over with that. My meat I buy from an halal butcher as I know where its been reared and trust the way it`s been slaughtered. This meat is so much more superior in quality to anything a supermarket could provide for me. And the price is very good. I can not falt the
    products I buy from this supplier, so my main criteria in what I buy lies with how far it`s travelled and that I know the true source of its origin. If its organic as well then that`s a further bonus.

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  2. The warm fireplaceJuly 22, 2013 5:43 am

    I used to buy local organic vegatables and meat but since our income has gone down i have turned to locally sourced meat from our butcher and local fruit and veg, we are building up our land 3 1/2 acres as full organic, we use just manure to feed the plants, we are hoping in three years time to have enough veg and fruit to make us to some degree self sufficient in veg at least, we have an ongoing planting programme of fruit trees. I would not buy veg or fruit that came from abroad, i remember years ago picking up some onions and not checking the label and realised they had come from New Zealand to UK, ridiculous i didnt see the point of buying organic and then harming the environment with the travel miles.
    Sue

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  3. Hi Rhonda
    It's a good question...I buy local organic vegetables from an oline orgnaic store who brings in these and milk, eggs and cheese from local farmers and free range chicken, beef and lamb from my son who has a small business selling these products - community supported agriculture. Anything that I cannot buy through him I go local for. If I cannot find it locally I go without....there are a few things we still buy that are neither local nor organic that I cannot make or find local equivalents for, like coconut milk etc. I also try as hard as possible to stick to the 1000km rule but it's not always possible.

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  4. Good morning Rhonda. I did buy "organic" foods for quite a while but have gone back to mainstream for financial reasons. To be blunt I could not afford $6 for 1 dozen of organic eggs ( this is why we have hens here) nor could I afford $30 for 1 kg bacon and $16 for a chicken ( we do raise our own beef but are not allowed to raise pigs on this farm). If people have a lot of disposable income then I think they have more choices about eating organically or not. I think we all have to do the best we can. If I drive past a roadside stall I will often buy from them. I was at a Farmers Market on Saturday and most foods were beyond my budget. Growing your own vegies and fruit is one of the best ways to be organic. Food miles---- food has gone up again in the supermarket because petrol in NZ is now $2.28 litre and it gets passed on to the consumers. I am sure I am not the only one who wonders how much tighter can we tighten our belts that are already on the last hole.

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  5. Yes to the last three questions....I belong (with one of my daughters) to an organic farm very nearby from which we get fresh, local, organic food. I eat less and less meat and only from farmer's markets where I know how the animals are raised. My eggs are from a farm nearby where I see the chickens running about when I go there. My son is a vegetarian mostly because of these considerations of animal cruelty. But like you, I am very lucky and there is a lot of local organic and reasonably priced food. I used to raise more of our food, but because of health problems I am not doing that now.......

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  6. Hello Rhonda,
    I absolutley consider many things when buying our food. We live in a beautiful area of Souteastern Pennsylvania,(USA) loads of farms, dairy and meat animals. I'm lucky to be able to buy most of what we like at one or two local markets. I won't buy milk that's ultra pasturised. I buy milk from a dairy,not organic but no drugs or hormones used and we see the cows,walking around,eating grass,enjoying the sunshine and the attention the children give them after the parents shop!I really started questioning the organic idea when I saw that the organic apple juice sold in a local grocery was from apples grown in Turkey. Pennsylvania is the second largest apple producing state in the US. Make sense? Like you I opt for fresh, local and consider the lives of the animals and humans involved in the production of the foods we eat. Thank you for this post, this is a subject close to my heart. I read your blog every day, but comment less often! Blessings, Denise U.S.A.

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    1. PA Apples!!! We go to a wonderful orchard and get bushels at the lowest prices I have ever seen. The apples are delicious and they last so long. I cannot wait for fall!!!

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    2. Miss Fifi, are you from Pennsylvania? I am. If so, we should get in touch! Mary Ellen

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    3. Actually in Western NJ, but friends have a farm in Tunkhannock PA. :)

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    4. Been there. I'm in State College.

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  7. Hi Rhonda,
    I used to turn myself inside out trying to make the best purchase based on my values and my budget. One day,as I was standing in front of a a dozen different types of eggs I realsied how hugely fortunate we are here in Australia to even have a choice, and that millions of women around the world would be grateful to have an egg - ANY egg - to feed their children.

    Our local organic shop stocks organic from Brisbane and a variety of locally grown chemical free food. I do consider carbon miles, but I also find chemically produced food unethical as it destroys the soil and the health of the people who produce it (and their children's health if the wind happens to be blowing the wrong way when they spray the crops). Try to get a hold of the documentary 'Dirt' and you will appreciate how vital healthy farming practices are.

    What I concluded is that I'm in the lucky position of having enough land to produce much of our food, and to do so is the most healthy and ethical thing I can do. My block is just under a quarter acre and I've put in about a dozen fruit trees, an almond tree and a chook run. Also veggie beds, of course, and planning to add hazelbushes, blueberry bushes and cane fruit.

    Rhonda, it's a wonderful topic you'e raised and I look forward to everyone's response. The issue I really am still turning myself inside out over is shoes and clothing - as we all know much of it is produced by slave labour in developing countries, the carbon miles are appalling, not to mention the chemicals sprayed on the cotton. As a start, I do purchase organic fair trade where I can but there's still not much available, and I'm determined to improve my knitting to the degree that I never have to buy another jumper from China.

    Sorry for the long comment, these issues are so close to my heart.

    Have a great day, Madeleine.X

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    1. A good response, Madeleine. I didn't read it, or many others, before I posted my own reply down below.

      I have also seen the documentary "Dirt" and attended numerous workshops and talks on health and soil and so forth, and really feel strongly about healthy farming practices.

      We are very fortunate here in Australia but still have a long way to go. We should be decreasing (eliminating!) our use of toxic chemicals, mass use of antibiotics in raising animals for food, etc, which in turn makes us look at how those crops and animals are raised.

      I want my food to be chemical and cruelty free.

      Ree

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  8. We love local...as long as we can afford it. I won't budge on local pork, mainly because pork is very prone to pathogens, but sometimes I just can't pay $7/lb for whole (local) chicken. I stick with the farmers' market in the warmer months for as much as I can, although Costco's produce is such a good deal and is hard to pass up.

    As for imported goods, I try to stick with our hemisphere at least. A chain we have here in the US often has meats from Australia...that's too far for my taste.

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  9. Many years ago, I read an article in one of the Sydney papers about free range eggs. The article pointed out that there simply aren't enough free range egg producers, nor enough suitable land to produce the vast quantities of free range eggs being sold on our supermarket shelves. The figures simply were,'t adding up, overall suggesting that some eggs are most likely being marketed as free range, when indeed they are not. Oddly I have not heard of this issue since, but I've always wondered about the validity of free range supermarket eggs. The best bet...where ever possible I buy my eggs from local markets, I've talked to the stall holders about their farms, and I know exactly where they have come from.

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    1. I saw a documentary a few years back where they were interviewing chicken farmers. This farmer had two identical barns, one for the regular chickens and one for the "free range" chickens. Both where crammed with chickens who were packed together so tightly that they fought each other to the death. The only difference in the barns was that the "free range" birds had a little patio space where they could go outside. It was fenced in on all sides, but the chickens wouldn't go out there because foxes and raptors would sit on the other side of the fence terrorizing them. So in my mind the words "free range" are pretty much meaningless in this context.

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  10. I'm not purchasing 'organic' as much as I'm more interested in local and natural.
    I do find myself wanting less and less to do with 'packaging'. The more natural the food...the less packaging. The more processed (why something that has so many preservatives in it needs to be wrapped in plastic before it's placed inside a box and wrapped again, is beyond me...unless that is the preservation of it)
    I'm fortunate that in my small town, we have a Heritage Market, run by Mennonites...they carry local produce, local honey, fresh baked goods AND! the items needed to bake my own fresh baked goods. While some items are pricey...they are only 7 miles from, rather than 16 to big chain stores. So...to me that is more organic than anything! Means less gasoline, less time (could be home baking), less packaging if I purchase flour, sugar or spices there.
    I've also taken to shopping at a local Produce stand with fresh fruits and veggies everyday. Granted this man goes to Dallas, a 1 -1/2 hour drive one way to the big market and makes a purchase and brings it back here to a local stand...but look at the savings that is for me. Plus, it helps support a thriving young family owned and operated business. These things are worth it to me.
    Oh...and I don't have my own source for milk and cheese or meats...but the Heritage market offers all these things too. Most of it from local farms around our County--and all part of the Mennonite church.
    You make good points about travel time, gas, distance, 'freshness', etc. I think about these things...but never know if others think on these same lines.
    I also agree and 'Organic' label can mean different things to different people.
    Sometimes, I think being 'certified organic' is just government regulation.
    But that is a different comment for a different post. :)
    Patricia

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  11. I stopped buying imported and organic a while ago, I was annoyed that the farmers weren't the ones benefiting from the higher price consumers paid for these good and I felt the word "organic" was being exploited by marketers and middlemen. I buy from a local produce market and try to grow as much as I can. My one indulgence is bananas though, NZ doesn't have the right climate to grow these. We recently spent 3 weeks in Japan and found the food in supermarkets there very expensive, this is because the Government has very strict controls on what food can be imported. I like the sound of that model, supporting it's own farmers first, although this did result in a higher cost for the consumer, but perhaps shortcuts wouldn't be taken if farmers were paid a fairer deal?

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  12. I live in Norway. I grow quite a bit of berries and fruit and herbes in my garden, and some potatoes - but for the rest I have to rely on buying. (Berries - and jam made from it - lasts us all year!) It can be hard to get Norwegian goods to get us through the winter, when it comes to vegetables and fruit. Norwegian bananas and oranges just doesn't exist - but I still buy oranges and bananas. But I do not buy sweetpeas or carrots from the other side of the world, since those are vegetables that can be grown in Norway. And I try to wait for the Norwegian strawberries arriving in July, instead of the Belgian that seem to come all year around. Buying organic is easier when it comes to regular "supermarket-stuff" - like milk or sour cream. Organic carrots are rare, in bad shape and of course expensive - and sometimes they travel to far....
    Living at "the edge of the world" I think I have to accept to buy some far-away-goods, like bananas. But I try to keep the rest of our food and shopping according to season, the seasons here - and buy local food. Right now we are enjoying strawberries, cauliflower, lettuce and tomatoes and fresh herbes - all Norwegian and right in the season.

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  13. Oh, it's such a tangled nest of complicated issues isn't it? This month I've been doing an "ethical foods" challenge where the only foods I can buy are either local (defined as produced within the state of Colorado), organic, or salvage. When I went into it I thought the hardest part for me would be paying more, which has been hard, but it turns out that availability is an even bigger issue.

    Some of that is because I live in one of Denver's poorest neighborhoods, so there are no farmer's markets nearby, and the stores pretty much cater to the food stamp crowd - which means the emphasis is on cheap prices. There is a tiny organic produce section at my local chain grocery store, but it's all wilted and brown and looks like it's been sitting there for several weeks (which it probably has) and I haven't been able to bring myself to pay 10 times the price for yucky produce!

    It's not that I couldn't find a better selection if I was willing to drive 10-15 miles away to one of the wealthy neighborhoods... I just HATE having to do that for so many reasons. Plus, the "trendier" this stuff gets, the more meaningless many of those phrases like "free range" become. And people can charge a premium for it now that the farmer's market has become fashionable. I mean, I'm all for local, ethical food, but seriously, $14/pound for pasture raised chicken?!? $31/pound for grass fed beef?!? (but only if you agree to buy half a cow, otherwise it's MUCH more expensive) and $6-$9/dozen for pasture raised eggs? I dunno... certified organic is WAY cheaper than that.

    It all leaves me feeling very conflicted, and I'm really not sure where I stand on any of it at the moment.

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  14. I have had exactly this debate with myself for many years but I keep coming down on the side of local and fresh rather than organic.

    Like you, I am blessed to live in an area that supports a huge variety of local food production so try to take advantage of this wherever possible.

    My ultimate goal is to be able to produce enough of our own food - eggs, fruit and vegetables to enable me to spend a little extra on some items that are both local and organic. In the meantime, I do the best that I can with regard to chemicals, food miles, supporting local businesses and reducing packaging. It truly is a balancing act.

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  15. My rule of thumb for pretty much everything, and not only food, but other goods and services as well, is to try my hardest to support local people and businesses. I think it's so important to have local and small businesses - I hate the thought that some time in the future we will all be beholden to just a few mega-companies, controlling the world.

    For the food, I feel that if it's local, there is a good chance it hasn't been treated so it lasts forever (to stay "fresh" for when it reaches the supermarket shelves). If they say it's organic, that's a plus.

    When I'm in the supermarket, I check where the product comes from, who made it (are they an Australian company), and if it claims to be organic, and the price. It's a real balancing act. I don't just always buy the cheapest, even though we watch our spending, but the "best" choice also has to fit within the budget.

    I just do the best I can to hold true to my beliefs, but don't beat myself up about it if I can't.

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    1. I loved your comment, especially this bit, it's exactly what I do. "I don't just always buy the cheapest, even though we watch our spending, but the "best" choice also has to fit within the budget. I just do the best I can to hold true to my beliefs, but don't beat myself up about it if I can't."

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  16. Hi Rhonda
    I love this post, its so important to buy local. I dont think a lot of people think about what they eat these days only last night I showed my children video footage of broiler farms and what happens to some of our livestock with live exports then slaughted overseas then imported back, its insane.
    Im trying to grow more and more of my own vegetables and fruit. Somebody at work said to me why bother {what an attitude} I just said "why not" we need to educate our children to care about where our food comes from.
    Once again I do really love this post x

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  17. This is a topic that I have been pondering a lot lately. We've started doing our f+v shop at the local harvest markets. The emphasis, from what I understood, was that the food would be 'local' - this excited us!

    The reality however is very different. We live in the Hunter Valley (near Newcastle) and apparently local includes Sydney! To me 2 hours away plus however many hours away it travelled to get to Sydney is not 'local'. The truly local people (and I've only seen about 3 stalls that meet that definition) can only sell seasonal produce - so we can get potatoes, avocado, cabbage, broccoli, lemons etc at the moment which are local, but I despair because one man who is trying to become certified organic was only able to sell a few items at slightly more expensive prices and hasn't been back due to all the 'cheap' produce being peddled from other stalls, we tried to buy from him, but there are only so many beetroots one needs, and his potato crop apparantly didn't do so well, so he didn't have many to sell.

    So we buy local first as much as we can but then we end up at the other stalls, with the only concession being that at least they are better than the supermarket.

    As for meat - we refuse to buy any pork, organic or otherwise now, it's just a personal decision. But we still buy beef and chicken. My preference is for free range, but the prices are sometimes beyond our budget.

    Packaging is also a massively important factor in what we buy - if we see something we'd like but it is packaged, we will walk around to all the other stalls and try and get it unpackaged. Butchers are happy for us to bring our own containers as well.

    We've been talking about raising and culling our own poultry, but my partner does not seem too keen on the idea, and considering she'd have to do it, as I am quite reluctant, it might not be happening any time soon - but it is the only way I can see us being sure that our chickens were treated ethically before we raised them. We have our own chickens for eggs, but before that we were able to get affordable free range eggs at the markets, and when ours go off the lay, that's what we'll do again.

    So local, unpackaged produce gets first priority. If it's organic that's a bonus. Meat - we still have a ways to go.

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    1. Hi Mel, I'm in the Newcastle area too and was only discussing on Facebook last night about the local Farmers Market here in Newcastle which has not been accredited by the Australian Farmers Markets Organisation. My parents and my in-laws both have vegie gardens and my in-laws also keep chickens but because of the weather and the fact that they are no longer "spring chickens" LOL they are off the lay. We have heard rumours that some of the stalls at the Farmers Markets in Newcastle just buy their stock from the Sandgate Produce Markets hence its unlikely to be local. We do the majority of our shopping at Aldi do to budget constraints. Be careful of the market stalls, they are not all what they claim to be.

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  18. Oh Rhonda, I totally agree, local is always my main aim, you also find if things are grown/sold locally they are usually produced morally as they are smaller farmers/growers who care. There is a fantastic book I read (and re-read) called Plenty, the 100 mile food diet, where a Canadian couple eat locally for a year - its amazing and inspirational. xxBrenda

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    1. I need to read that!
      If you liked that book, you may be interested in this book too "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver http://www.animalvegetablemiracle.com/

      I do love the part where before they embarked on eating only local food which included growing their own, they have to decide as a family, what one nolocal product would each person be allowed. Two that I recall were bananas and coffee. Myself, I would have picked bananas, avocados and tea. LOL

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  19. Hmmm. Big issue you've raised here! For me, anyway.

    Ideally I would go for organic and local. Fortunately I grow some food and have chooks, and for most of the rest I buy it through two co-ops. One I help to run is a fresh produce co-op, and the other is a dry foods co-op run by two friends who purchase organic grains, seeds, nuts etc in bulk several times a year.

    The first co-op I helped to set up several years ago because a group of us wanted healthy, chemical free food for our families, and it's going strong. We have many families in our membership whose children or themselves have allergies or health issues which lead them to seek out chemical free produce. Our top priority is to source certified or guaranteed chemical free produce and the next priority is to source it as local as possible.

    We regularly conduct price checks and frequently come out cheaper per kg for certified organic than supermarket non organic for quite a few items, so looking for or starting up a food co-op with some friends would be my suggestion for those on a budget. Cutting down in other areas helps as well as you regularly discuss here. I'm rather frugal in what I spend my money on!

    Mentioning organic food opens up quite a minefield. You're right, Rhonda, in that there is much more to it than a word which can be interpreted a few ways, and misused.

    Of course, I'm presented with a dilemma if I'm travelling (I rarely travel nowadays anyway) or out to dinner with friends as much of the food on offer wouldn't be organic. I eat chemical free the majority of the time so a sporadic visit to a restaurant hopefully won't kill me! If I had cancer or another serious illness, I wouldn't touch chemically grown food at all.

    The bottom line is that my preference is for chemical free food for my family. I'm not going to buy it in from overseas however I'm also not going to support a local farmer if he zaps the broccoli and the spinach constantly with chemicals, grown in soil layered with chemicals as well. I often choose to go without an item at all, and I would rather be on the side of education in how to grow without chemicals.

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  20. I think food choices and the state of our industrial food market (animal cruelty, additives, synthetic foods, insecticides, added hormones etc)is the biggest issue of our time right now. It really worries me,mainly when I think of the next generation and what they are eating. I cant afford organic but just don't buy certain food such as celery and strawberries because they are heavily sprayed (or so I am led to believe) however I do eat apples and broccoli which are also heavily sprayed so I guess my desire for some things out weighs my health concerns. I grow as much veg and fruit as possible as at least I know where its been. I wont buy pork other than free range hormone free (which is plantagenate here) and I only buy the mince as its more affordable and is a special treat maybe once a month. I shudder when I think of the chooks. I buy free range chicken (one week) and eggs (I eat at least one a day) and hope its from a reputable company (Mt Barker here). I really should look at keeping my own chooks but our lives aren't quite set up for this yet and then there is the space for the amount of meat birds we would need. My food choices are definitely open to education and is one of the most confusing aspects of our daily choices within a frugal budget in the 21st century.

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  21. Like you Rhonda, I prefer to buy local over organic for our fruit and veg. I do, however buy organic flour and coconut oil from an online organic shop. As we don't have a local dairy I purchase our milk from Aussie Farmers Direct. They have just started selling biodynamic milk and organic cheese which I do purchase regularly. We grow a lot of our own veges and herbs which we consider to be organic. We have chickens but only for eggs. I have been buying free range meat chickens from Aldi and also their grass fed beef. If I need to buy tomato passata, tomato paste, pasta etc. I always buy organic. I have done some research on chemicals in food and it appears Australia still uses some that are banned overseas. We very rarely have any prepackaged and processed food except or perhaps sugar and weetbix, chocolate and tea and coffee. I try to also buy fair trade. Shopping these days is not so clear cut as there are so many choices out there. What I am finding difficult is shopping for clothes and homewares that are ethically produced!

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    1. You could try grassroots ecostore,blessed earth and organature online. I think organature even sells organic fabric for making your own clothing. I need to 'skill up' so that I can make more of my own garments, and improving my knitting is next on the list. I'm also planning to felt some old woollen jumpers and have a go at making felt slippers for next year. Good luck with it :)

      Madeleine

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  22. What are those things in the second photo? Fruit? Sorry to be dense.

    I look for food that is local, organic, and cheap - in that order. However, since I am trying to combat acid reflux by encouraging good gut flora and fauna, I do seek out more local, organic food since I don't want any antibiotics or harmful chemicals if I can help it.

    I am very, very fortunate to live in a wonderful farming area with lots of Amish and Mennonite farmers who produce excellent food inexpensively. We can't grow much in our city backyard because we have a black walnut tree towering over most of the yard and they are toxic to most plants (and way too expensive to take down on our budget!). I do not believe farmers have to be certified organic to grow what I consider organic food. Most of the time I am able to talk directly to the farmers who grow and raise our food. What an incredible blessing!

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    1. Hi Margo. You're not dense because you don't know, my sweet. They're passionfruit. We have a yellow passionfruit vine and a black one. The blacks are in the photo. I had some spare fruit that I've frozen for summer cordials.

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  23. Hi dear Rhonda, your post was so interesting, but what caught my attention the most was your first photo. On Sunday mornings, I like to cook and make a traditional Texas meal, which includes eggs. I am a single girl, but I like to make a lot so I can freeze extra. I cracked the eggs from the end of one carton(3) and the beginning of another very different one (3 more) and what caught my attention the most while cooking was the difference in colour of the yolks. The first 3 were so pale, and the second 3 were a vibrant orange as in your first picture. Nothing earth changing, just an observation....xx debbie

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    1. Hi Debbie, I'm guessing your second lot of orange yolks are from free ranging hens that have access to a lot of grass and green leafy vegetables. The eggs in my photo are from my backyard and that is what our girls have out there.

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  24. We tend to buy most of our fruit and veg from a local store and most of our meat from a local butcher. What we can't buy from those two, we buy from Aldi and Coles. We try to buy unprocessed foods because we prefer the taste of homemade food, its cheaper and often healthier. Our girls have eczema that is best controlled by avoiding artificial preservatives, flavours and colours, along with using a particular type of washing powder, so there is that point for us to consider as well. We'd like to eat organic, but since we aren't yet self-sufficient and simply can't afford the price tag (let alone research every provider to be sure that we agree with their ethics), we stick to supporting small business and buying only Aussie grown/made food.

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  25. It looks like you've hit quite a nerve here Rhonda. We can't produce everything we need, but our food is primarily grown at home wherever possible. The garden produces well for our summer veggies and I'm dehydrating, freezing or canning garden excess. My husband is a hunter and much of the meat we enjoy is harvested by him. We've had our own grass-fed cows processed for meat as well. We're now raising chickens for free-range eggs as well as meat. Although we don't produce our own milk, I've made cheese and yogurt with purchased milk. It's hard for anyone to produce everything they eat, but we're trying to produce as much of it as we can. When I do purchase, I don't typically look at organics - it's just too much for our budget.

    ~Taylor-Made Ranch~
    Wolfe City, Texas

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  26. A good post and judging by how very long it took me to scroll down to the comments box , lots of great comments! We try and buy local wherever possible because means we can talk to the producer themselves about how they produce their product ...but we also grow alot on the farm. I did an interesting experiment not long ago with ethically raised organic chicken and a coles supermarket chicken ...both the same size. I baked both the same way and sat them on table for the family to cut off what they wished to go with their veges. The white , bland looking , watery feeling coles chicken was left there...the crispy flavoursome ethically raised runnign around the farm chicken was nothing but a skeleton at the end. I didn't tell anyone in my family which was which until the end of the meal.It taught my children why we buy what we buy and will spend more on food than fancy clothes.
    It is hard when you have a young family because money is tighter, but look out for food buying co-ops that buy good food wholesale as a group (there is a post at LIttle Eco Footprints on this) and also your backyard growers that aren't certified organic but grow good healthy food without pesticides. The word 'organic ' is over used and a great marketing tool on the unsuspecting buyer ... I saw a bottle of 'organic 'water yesterday and shook my head at people paying for something that falls out of the sky!

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  27. Not only are you extraordinary because you are my Sister, but this is one of you BEST blogs. I gave up on growers markets because they are deemed to be trendy and is were you are seen on weekends! And also because the growers market in my area has become outrageously expensive. I agree with every comment made here and would like to pose another question on the quest for sustainability. --$2 shops!- How many people shop in $2 shops for "bits and pieces"? (pound shops in Britain) My hand is up! Someone I used to work with made the comment that they are spoiling gift giving, especially for children and especially at Christmas. (not to mention the packaging and the miles travelled).
    This would be another are where Fair Trade would be an issue I think.

    Patricia Margaret

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    1. $2 shops!! AARGH - they are my worst nightmare. I have capitulated and bought something about once every couple of years. Usually from the one in our small town when it is simply not feasible to go further afield for something small. My last venture was for some small bells to make earrings to wear to a 'Christmas in July' function. This is a perfect example of not being organised leading to buying like this. :( Most of the 'bits and pieces" are unnecessary junk which is imported, probably made by poorly-paid workers, over-packaged and generally unsustainable.

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  28. Thank you for your reply. That is SO interesting! I should have taken a photo because the contrast of pale yellow yolks vs. the bright orange ones was stunning. I think I could have chickens here, but my main hesitation is that they will attract snakes, which is my biggest fear! My lawn mowing guy has found a few snakeskins in my backyard over the years and I remember your past snake pictures too :) take care, xx debbie

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  29. Hi Rhonda,

    When purchasing anything in this complicated world it seems for every question answered there is another question! My family of 5 are vegan and have been for a number of years now. We strongly believe that any system that commodifies another being is fundamentally wrong - even so called "happy" dairy cows are impregnated every year and have their calves removed shortly after birth with the male calves being sold as veal or slaughtered as a waste product. And don't get me started on "free range" meat and eggs!
    As for other purchases we are members of a local organic farmers market and buy all our fresh produce from there. Bulk purchases of grains and legumes are trickier, and due to budget restrictions we tend to by these in bulk to save money so they are not organic and not always locally produced (although we do try to by local when possible). Most of our clothing and furniture come from second hand stores and we do often buy new items of clothing from fairtrade and organic suppliers (we don't buy a lot of clothes). Tea and Coffee is fairtrade and I use my Ethical Shopping Guide to help navigate the many brands out there when I am unsure. We by very little pre-packaged food and are in the process of growing more of our own food, even though we rent and our friends think we are made putting so much work into the garden.

    It is very difficult to live 100% true to your values in our western world, however we are blessed to have so much information at our finger tips and so many options.

    Thank you for opening up a wonderful discussion.

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  30. Yes securing 'decent' food is an issue. Not long ago I was buying organic fruit and veg which is very expensive. However as we live 800 km's from a capital city, we also had to pay for freight on top of that.I also purchase organic food products from a Health food shop 400km's away, but have found their prices to be astronomical. I thought if that is what it costs to buy organic I would not bother. However a friend discovered the MACRO range that can be purchased in Woolies stores (4oo km's away). Many of these products carry the Australian Certified Organic logo, and are at a much cheaper cost. However largely I consider that most organic products are out of reach for many people. If I fresh an abundance of fresh produce frm the vegir patch, or from our fruit trees, I like to barter with friends, and swap produce with them.

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  31. Great post, made me think about my choices. I like to shop local when possible but I do that generally anyway. But to be honest, shopping organically is not high on my radar. If it were an accessible and affordable option right now then yes I'd love to go fully organic. I just have to kind of prioritise things. But it's always in the back of my mind so I make those choices when I can. By the way, I really appreciate that your post was open-minded and non judgement, as sometimes some people can be a bit righteous about these things which can be a bit off-putting. A lot of us are just on the start of our journeys to live simple or live organic etc, and so it's nice to come across positive inspirations such as yourself. Thanks!

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  32. Hi Rhonda, this is an interesting post. If I can't find an Australian-grown version of an organic product, I go without. I've seen how much chemicals are used on cattle, both in conventional meat and dairy production and I don't want those chemicals in my body, so anything that we don't grow ourselves, we buy local organic or go without. Especially in tick areas, the cattle are dipped weekly in disgusting chemicals (and by dipped I mean, forced to swim through). I think a lot of city people don't actually realise the extent of chemical-use with animals for human consumption, and many of these chemicals are "preventative" with farmers scared by chemical companies into using more than they need. Sure there are with-holding periods, but with hormone-disrupting chemicals, who's to say that a safe level exists at all. If you saw it for yourself, it would be an easy decision to buy organic meat, eggs and milk products, or go without.

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  33. Timely post Rhonda.
    The ethics of food has become the hottest topic recently, and it is really only a western world one; however our decisions make a huge impact on those nations that produce food we trade with.
    I try to grow what produce that I can in my rental backyard of several vege beds and potted fruit trees; as well as do some urban foraging/food swapping in the neighbourhood, and then in rural areas for feral fruit and nuts and mushrooms. Next is the organics for things I have researched as being 'dripping' in chemicals, such as cauliflowers (which take 27 chemical just to grow-excluding sprayings), strawberries and broccoli. I try and source these at the farmers markets, but have found them becoming very expensive, and there are whispers that Coles and Woolies are strategizing the move into this territory. We also have 2 excellent wholesalers near us that we can source produce and dry goods.
    Meat and eggs, we try to get pasture/free range that is certified, as well as cut back on our consumption and very importantly use a 'nose to tail' approach. We support local providers as much as possible with the pasture fed approach.
    In addition we are trying to eat more environmentally friendly choices such as kangaroo, rabbit and venison (even better if we can source some of friends who cull on their properties.)
    In addition, striving to reduce as much waste from food prep/eating as possible-now including trying to re-grow celery, spring onions, lettuce from their stems, and composting the other stuff. We have a long way to go and can always do better, so still feel guilty.
    I just received 'The conscious cook' book as a gift and was horrified about some of the information I read it -and I considered myself fairly well informed! Especially in relation to water consumption and food production. Beef uses horrendous amounts of water as does rice. Unsurprisingly the book advocates for using organic produce due to lower water consumption and a local buyer's philosophy, except some things-for example- rice which recommends buying from nations that produce it naturally due to high seasonal rainfall (Sth east and central Asia),trying to source organic and fair-trade if possible.
    The ethics of clothing and furniture is also on my mind too, especially given recent events in Bangladesh and the backlash towards companies using cheap labour. We try and use hand me downs, op shops and then try (!!) sewing using more sustainable materials (op shops sheets are for kids shorts etc), buy bamboo or organic cotton, but these are still areas fuelled with ethical dilemma.
    Sadly- it is always a battle between the mighty dollar and health--which is not to say I vote on the cheapest, my families health and that of the nation/planet are very important as well. What is comforting, is that a frugal, simple (!) life is in harmony with many of these issues and seems to be gathering momentum as a paradigm shift in thinking. Thanks again for the thought provoking post and sorry for ramble!

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    1. There's no rambling in your comment, Robyn. Thanks for an interesting contribution.

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    2. Robyn - rice has always been something which I consciously bought imported because I believe that it is unsustainable to be growing a water-intensive crop on land irrigated with water from the Murray-Darling system. As an aside, I have the same opinion of cotton growing in this country.

      You may be interested in rainfed biodynamic rice which is grown in northern NSW. http://www.rainfedrice.com.au/ I buy it from our local Co-op and love the fact that it ticks all the boxes as far as purchasing criteria goes for me. If only all products were so easy...........

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    3. Thankyou for the link organisedcastle--great to know!

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  34. I live in a wheat growing district, and am told that farmers spray their crop four times a year. Given that flours are the basis of our bread, cakes and biscuits etc, it makes you think twice doesn't it?

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    1. Robtrev....Organic Gardener did a research piece on the most heavily contaminated produce in Australia and wheat was number 1! Makes you think doesn't it. In addition, did you see the ABC 4 Corners program last night on dioxide levels in our supposably safe pesticides (2.4 D based ones)-very scary.

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  35. I think when choosing foods there are many things we could consider but there are a couple I always come back to: "Is this real, unprocessed food?" and "Does it's price reflect its true cost?". Our family has a modest income, but unlike many other families, we spend more of our income on food than on non-essentials. I can make many of the organic foods I buy, from the farmer's market, my local organic butcher and the backyard eggs I get from a friend, go a long way. We shop at the big duopoly players occasionally (for toilet paper mainly:) Our trolley is never full and it never has fruit and veges or meat in it. I would rather support a farmer, a local business, a friend...than contribute to the supermarkets who care only about profits. These are ethical choices, not just monetary ones, and I believe that there are many people in the developed world who could look much more closely at where their food comes from and question whether or not this "food" is really good for them, good for others and good for the Earth.

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  36. I love this topic and hope you do more posts with this theme. I make a commitment to buy as much organic (and at least USA) as I can. My husband hunts and provides our meat...otherwise we do without. Maybe I would buy local non-organic but in Arizona that is not as plentiful...usually at farmers markets it is imported in from other states. I buy all organic dairy. I have probably cut our food budget by 1/4 by doing with less...so much we just don't need to buy. My husband has been gluten free for the past two years so that pretty much cancels out anything in a box or eating out....I don't understand why people want to bury their head in the sand about the food they eat...to me it is so interesting ....reminds me of people smoking years ago...what "they" didn't tell you ended up killing you.

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  37. Great post Rhonda!
    We have been on the organic/local food bandwagon for awhile for many reasons. One of them being factory farming which has done some serious damage to the workers, the animals and the environment around them. Let alone the consumer, but it doesn't always seem to bother people here in the States. You would think tainted meat would get people angry, but it seems that more and more, people expect recalls and they have become the norm. Also, in the USA, it is very expensive to become "certified organic" so there are most likely more local farms that are organic, they just can't afford the government label.
    This year we joined a CSA because our 18month old son is quite the little eater and I knew I would not be able to grow enough of what we wanted, plus I prefer to support a local farm than my local Shop Rite. I use them when I am pressed, but I am not a buyer of brands so they are useless to me in a sense. The only brands I buy are milk for the toddler (dairy farm milk here in NJ is almost 1/3 more than organic milk in supermarket) and specific low sugar cereals like Vans for him as well. Organic sugar has gone up here and I chose not to buy it nor would I buy a regular cheaper brand. The bad business practices that Domino sugar and the rest of the sugar trade participate in would make everyone's eyes spin.
    My biggest disappointment is having to purchase fish from the supermarkets. I would prefer to buy everything fresh and local, even from the Jersey Shore, but the prices make it prohibitive at every level. That is where you get slammed. You want to support local but their pricing is more on par with a Whole Foods, and sometimes higher, than an Aldi's and that is where ones ethics get tangled and twisted. I want to do what is right, but until I can afford it,local eggs are 3.50 to 4.00 and that is too high in my husband's eyes, so I have to do what I can and what I think is best. Even if it means doing without. The one thing I have always wondered about supermarkets is what do they with all that stuff they do not sell??In my area, some of it gets donated to food pantries, but they can't take it all.

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  38. Our book club just finished reading the book 'Animal, vegetable, miracle' by Barbara Kingsolver. She and her family spent a year eating locally, seasonally and mainly from their own garden. It is Very interesting as it also deals a bit with the politics and subsidizing of food production. The author lives in America but it is very applicable for us Aussies too. It fits into this whole blog, is very easy to read and makes you just itch to get out and grow as much of your own produce as you can.
    Jan

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  39. i've recently found myself appalled to find that the certified grass fed beef at our supermarket in Vermont comes from Australia! No offense to Australian farms but with all our lush and productive farmland raising beef on grass here why do we need meat from literally the other side of the world! Crazy!
    I've also noticed that organic can mean extensive gas use and topsoil loss from constant tilling to reduce weeds.
    I try to stick to buying the clean 15 organic and selectively buying other produce when we can't grow it ourselves. It's a delicate balance trying to feed our family the best and healthiest foods possible on a tight budget but we manage by growing much of our own veg and relying on local farms we trust whenever we can.

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  40. I'm fortunate to live in a farming community and have a huge variety of locally grown food. Our diet is planned around what is available locally. By buying from our local farmers, I believe I'm not only purchasing the best products, but I'm also supporting our the small businesses in our community which is a huge bonus for me.

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  41. Hi Rhonda! Yes, a very good post. Since our own personal economic crisis the last 6 years, we have adopted a very simple lifestyle. That includes a big vegetable garden and 45 chickens. They supply our own eggs and lots left to sell. I make our own soaps and we shop at the thrift stores. Living in Canada, I am faced with a large issue. That is Genetically modified grains, etc. The more I learn, the further I want to stay away from them. I have been able to get organic chicken feed from a local dealer. Eventhough it is twice the price of regular layer, I can't feed my animals and ourselves this junk. I am very blessed that my friends all live in a similar manner as I do. We network and share. This way I have received lots of strawberries, redcurrants and blackberries. Our meat I am buying also from a local organic grower. I know it costs more, but I would rather we eat less meat this way than more poor quality from who knows where. Eggs are also a great 'meat' and enhance many meals. This way of living takes time and effort, but is soooo fulfilling! Thank you, Rhonda for all your inspiration. We can all be very proud of our efforts!

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  42. Wow, lots of great comments here. I also live in Canada, and with a very short growing season, try to grow and preserve as much of our fruit and veg as possible. We have cherry, plum, apple and pear trees, and 6 raised-bed gardens with tomatoes, kale, beets, squash, leeks, beans and herbs. I dehydrate, freeze, can, pickle and ferment all of it to last us the winter. This accounts for nearly half of our meals over the year. We buy local, organic wheat, spelt and oats to bake with (and grind our own flour). My parents raise beef, and we source local, free-range chickens, pork and eggs at a nearby store. We trade excess produce with like-minded families (one family friend exchanges raspberries for our kale, another offers onions and potatoes for squash).
    We buy milk and cheese, and citrus fruits from our local grocery store. Living in a rural area, these things do have some travel distance to reach us, but we are comfortable in knowing that we do all that we are able at this time. I agree with all the many comments about the "organic" wording on products. We like to know our farmers, see the animals being raised, etc. I think that there are good local organic products, but also, I see the grocery shelves being stocked with highly processed and packaged products made with organic ingredients....processed is bad in our home, organic or not! What's next? will Coke and Pepsi start using organic sugar, and then label their drinks as organic too? We as consumers are always being deceived, confused, and taken advantage of by the industrial food system. It's crazy how much time and effort it takes to keep being informed. I wish it were easier! -Deb in Manitoba Canada

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  43. Another wonderfully interesting and thought provoking post Rhonda. I think we've all fallen into a trap of thinking organic means more than it does. It may guarantee your food hasn't been sprayed with chemicals but you're right, it doesn't guarantee that food wasn't shipped halfway across the world or that the farmers, pickers and packagers had a decent wage for their hard work.
    It’s easy to say ‘oh I’ll only buy organic produce from now on’ and still trot down to the supermarket to buy it with little more thought in your brain than there was beforehand. It starts to get a little more complicated when you look at your organic or inorganic food and think ‘how did this get here?’, ‘why can I buy strawberries in winter when the whole county has 2 foot of snow and I haven’t even seen my strawberry bed for 2 weeks?’, ‘how much fuel did it take to get these fruits here?’, ‘were the workers well paid?’.
    And that’s just fruit and vegetables! Then you start thinking about where your meat and eggs came from and whammy – a whole new bunch of questions about animal welfare pop up before you even start thinking about the ethics of eating meat.
    So what’s the answer – I don’t know but I do know that as a fairly intelligent, well-educated woman I am woefully cut off from food production in my culture.
    Perhaps it's time we started to think about food in a whole new way; not as just a commodity but the very foundation of our local economy and society. Maybe we should all become more involved in growing, preserving and preparing food – at least that way we’ll know how much time and effort goes into the processes and be able to appreciate the labour and skill it involves
    The fantastic thing about your blog Rhonda is not only do you ask thought provoking questions but you have also provided some gateway skills that enable your readers to step off the treadmill and re-engage with food production.
    Anyway, I have to go now - my first attempt at homemade elderflower cordial is awaiting a tasting. :-)

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  44. My husband and I have recently been talkigna bout the same thing. His theory (albeit extreme), is that organic shoppers are contributing to global warming. Due to the food miles of the food. We always buy local fruit and veg and we're looking more closely into our staples as well, making what we can and trying to research local flours and grains.

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  46. Hi Rhonda,
    Thanks for steering me in this posts direction. Lots of great 'food for thought'! Wonderful comments too. I'm working out that I'm doing the best I can, becoming educated to make better choices. I was at my local health food shop this week, buying some of my favourite chia seeds. I've brought these many times before, they are black organic chia seeds and you measure out how many you want into a brown paper bag. This time I actually asked the lady where are they from, she went and checked and it was America. I won't be buying them again and I told her why. I've since found a Western Australian company growing Chia sustainably and 100% chemical free that I'll be buying from now on.

    Thank you again for making me question and educate myself on this year of self discovery I've been on. When you know better, you do better.

    Warm regards,
    Jan

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