PLANET ORGANIC

As the range of organic produce available in Spinneys continues to grow, we take a look at the key issues, facts and figures surrounding organic farming practices

Organic farming is at an all-time high. Production levels have never been greater and its popularity is soaring. But it hasn’t always been this way. Agricultural economist Stephan Dabbert notes how organic food production was once seen as a system “preferred by romantics clinging to a nineteenth-century approach to agriculture”. How times change.

These hand-knitted farms that had fat chance of ever selling their produce on a grand scale have transformed. Organic farming has transformed. In 1999, 11 million hectares of land were devoted to organic farming production. In 2013, this figure had risen to some 45 million hectares. Each week sees publication of a new study confirming that organic is better for our planet, our plate and our person. But why is this? What are the environmental benefits, flavour factors and nutritional pluses? From organic farming’s relationship with the earth to the nutritional qualities of the produce, we look at the reasons behind this shifting momentum, and find plenty to suggest things are only going to get increasingly organic.

Each week sees publication of a new study confirming that organic is better for our planet, our plate and our person.

FRUIT & VEGETABLE

Picture a head of perfectly fresh organic broccoli. Its florets are green-as-you-like, the stalk is strong and firm and protects the nutrients – calcium, iron, protein and potassium – within. The farming methods are the reason behind such strength. On arable land where organic fruit and vegetables grow, no pesticides or GMOs are used, nor are chemicals and machinery that could adversely affect nutritional content or soil quality. In their place are years of planning.

A tender green bean or sweet baby leek doesn’t happen by accident. One aspect of organic farming is crop rotation, which can take five to 10 years to establish. The theory is this: crops that attract beneficial insects to the soil are planted in the same field at different times and in an ordered cycle. The larger variety of crops minimises the development of pests and weeds while creating more fertile soil; the more nutrients there are in the soil, the greater potential for flavour. So when you next pick up an organic courgette, avocado or bag of spinach, think of these years of effort. This practice has preserved the nutritional quality of the food, without using potentially harmful chemicals, and helped fashion great-tasting products.Picture a head of perfectly fresh organic broccoli. Its florets are green-as-you-like, the stalk is strong and firm and protects the nutrients – calcium, iron, protein and potassium – within. The farming methods are the reason behind such strength. On arable land where organic fruit and vegetables grow, no pesticides or GMOs are used, nor are chemicals and machinery that could adversely affect nutritional content or soil quality. In their place are years of planning.

A tender green bean or sweet baby leek doesn’t happen by accident. One aspect of organic farming is crop rotation, which can take five to 10 years to establish. The theory is this: crops that attract beneficial insects to the soil are planted in the same field at different times and in an ordered cycle. The larger variety of crops minimises the development of pests and weeds while creating more fertile soil; the more nutrients there are in the soil, the greater potential for flavour. So when you next pick up an organic courgette, avocado or bag of spinach, think of these years of effort. This practice has preserved the nutritional quality of the food, without using potentially harmful chemicals, and helped fashion great-tasting products.

Spinneys have a close relationship with organic fruit and vegetable purveyor Sunripe. Their produce includes broccoli, fine beans, courgettes, avocados, baby leeks, salad onions and spinach.

MEAT & POULTRY

The principles that drive organic meat and poultry farming create a domino-effect. Each step in the long, closely monitored process needs to be handled delicately, otherwise the whole chain breaks down. For an animal to be raised organically it needs freedom to wander and the chance to graze on organic feed and grass that is never treated with pesticides or chemicals. Any illnesses are dealt with naturally (unlike conventionally reared meat and poultry) and allowed to run their course, with approved medicines used in serious cases. Pitted against animals pumped full of hormones, there is only one winner.

The taste and texture of organic, added hormone-free meat and poultry is incomparable. As well as the ethics of eating meat from animals that have been reared under organic principles and ethics – or as Dabbert put it, without “elements which might lead to the separation of farming from its natural environment” – it is this superior flavour that drives the growing popularity of organic meat. In January of this year, Spinneys completed their industry-leading switch to only stocking meat free from added hormones, as well as extending the organic range available. As a result, the chickens are more tender, the beef mince more delicious and the steaks juicier and fuller in flavour than before. In the words of New York University food expert Marion Nestle: “Organic meat tastes better. It should. The animals have to be cared for more carefully.”

The organic meat and poultry produce available in Spinneys includes beef tenderloin and striploin, chicken, SpinneysFood Organic Eggs and also fresh and smoked fish.

DAIRY

Organic dairy products are many shoppers’ entry point into the organic world. The first sip of milk turns into a pot of yogurt and before you know it, you’re at the bottom of a second tub of organic ice cream. The fresh flavour of organic dairy is immediately apparent, with the reasons why just as clear.

The animals’ stress levels are kept low and body condition high. Herbal treatments are approved for use on all organic animals, and they graze on hay and pasture free from the synthetic fertilisers and pesticides that could harm their health and affect the flavour of their milk and end product. To keep the produce chain free from synthetics, organic dairy products can only be sold if the animals have been under organic management for at least one year.

Spinneys stock a host of organic dairy products: Green & Black’s ice cream, Lemnos feta, Organilicious milk, Glenisk yogurts and Rachel’s Organic yogurts and butter.