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Whole Foods Will Now Tell You How Organic Their Veggies Are

Oct 15, 2014

The next time you find yourself in Whole Foods' fresh produce aisles, you'll find that much of the research you wanted to do on how your food is grown has already been done for you.

Whole Foods began implementing a program Wednesday that rates fresh produce in its grocery aisles based on pesticide, water and soil use, and its impact on human health and farmworkers. The upscale supermarket chain said it is rating fresh produce on a scale from "good" to "better" to "best" with the intention of informing shoppers about the way fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers are tended and grown.

PHOTOS: Check Out These Throwback Images of Organic Farmers

A former artist, Regan gave up painting in 1998 to grow salad greens at Sky Farm outside Millerton, NY. On eleven acres, he raises everything from familiar lettuces to more exotic leaves like borage and micro-amaranth. Unlike most other small farmers, he leases his land, rather than own it, and he sells almost exclusively to restaurants. He has always farmed organically, calling it the “honest’ thing to do.
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A former artist, Regan gave up painting in 1998 to grow salad greens at Sky Farm outside Millerton, NY. On eleven acres, he raises everything from familiar lettuces to more exotic leaves like borage and micro-amaranth. Unlike most other small farmers, he leases his land, rather than own it, and he sells almost exclusively to restaurants. He has always farmed organically, calling it the “honest’ thing to do.Francesco Mastalia
A former artist, Regan gave up painting in 1998 to grow salad greens at Sky Farm outside Millerton, NY. On eleven acres, he raises everything from familiar lettuces to more exotic leaves like borage and micro-amaranth. Unlike most other small farmers, he leases his land, rather than own it, and he sells almost exclusively to restaurants. He has always farmed organically, calling it the “honest’ thing to do.
At his farm in Goshen, New York, Wyatt raises 800 merino sheep for both meat and wool (the richly colored yarn are dyed on the farm). The poetry he posts on his blog reveals a love of language, which helps explain why although he farms organically—he no longer seeks the government’s certification for doing so. “I rescinded my [organic] certification two years after the USDA took over,” he says. “I don’t like the word now because it’s branding.”
While running a storefront law office dedicated to progressive causes in the 1970s, Jones worked with labor and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, which gave him one of his earlier experiences in the field. Now he supplies dozens of New York restaurants, and runs a CSA, with the 300 varieties of herbs and vegetables he grows at Bloominghill Farm. “One of the benefits of organic is that I don’t have to ride a sprayer,” he says. “There’s no farmer in the world that wakes up the morning and says, ‘Oh boy I get to spray today.’
As a child, Bail swore she would escape the dairy farming life of her German parents. But it was too deep in her blood. After stints in Germany, California, and Canada, she landed in the Hudson Valley, where she and her partner raise cows and fruit on Threshold Farm’s 45 biodynamic acres. “I hope I die like my father died,” she says. “Right up in that barn, throwing hay out. That’s a beautiful way to go, with your animals around you.”
Together with his partner Laura Nywening, Uhler founded Peace and Carrots farm just over a year ago. But its roots go much further back: it fills a tiny corner of a dairy farm that Nywening’s family has owned for now four generations. In its first year, Peace and Carrots remains a tiny operation—just a green house that the two built from a kit, and and acre and a half for the vegetables they sell through a CSA (community supported agriculture).
After growing up on a conventional farm, Bialas switched to organic only because, when it came time to start his own J&A Farm in Goshen, NY, he couldn’t afford to buy chemical pesticides and fertilizers. But he and his wife Adina quickly realized they didn’t need them: the roughly 200 varieties they grow—everything from arugula and tomatillos to collards and popcorn—sell quickly at the farmers’ markets, through CSAs, and to acclaimed restaurants like Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
Another escapee from conventional farming, Bolluyt grew up in Iowa, where she spent summers detassling corn, and helping her uncle with his 1500-acre soybean farm. Now she raises vegetables and livestock organically with her Dutch-born partner Jean-Paul Courtens. “There used to be small farms there,” she says of Iowa. “Then they all closed and we lost a lot of the community that we used to have. After seeing what happened to the landscape, I didn’t really want to go back to the old ways of farming."
A former artist, Regan gave up painting in 1998 to grow salad greens at Sky Farm outside Millerton, NY. On eleven acres,
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Francesco Mastalia
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In addition, Whole Foods said it was prohibiting some insecticides that can impair neurological development in children. “After three years of research and planning, Responsibly Grown is the result of our collaboration with suppliers, scientists and issue experts to continue our strong commitment to organic, while embracing additional important topics and growing practices in agriculture today,” said Matt Rogers, global produce coordinator at Whole Foods Market.

Farms that participate in the program have to take steps to protect air, soil, water and human health, and only use pesticides registered EPA in order to earn a "good" rating. The "better" and "best" ratings indicate improved performance in those categories.

Whole Foods says the program will encourage farmers to recycle plastics, install solar panels, plant wildflowers to restore natural bee habitats, and more efficiently irrigate their fields, for example. About half the produce sold in Whole Food's stores will carry the labels, the New York Times reports.

Whole Foods has been struggling to compete with cheaper food sources like Walmart, which recently announced its own organic food program. The company's stock has dropped more than 30% this year, though its earnings have been stable.

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