Silas Long from Blessed Bananas at his organic food stall at the Mullumbimby Farmers’ Market.
Silas Long from Blessed Bananas at his organic food stall at the Mullumbimby Farmers’ Market. Ava Benny-Morrison

Organic produce gaining popularity

“EXCUSE me, is this spray free, organic non-hydroponic produce?”

No, that is not a request for an unmodified illegal substance, but an enquiry into the genetics of a tomato at a local farmers' market.

These weekly community markets have popped up around the region left, right and centre, prompting terms like bio-dynamic and gluten-free to become common phrases plastered on the bio-degradable packaging your market produce is purchased in.

But what does it all mean? Organic food is not genetically modified and is usually devoid of herbicide/pesticide sprays, unless the sprays are approved by one of many organic certified bodies in Australia, including the Organic Growers of Australia.

Sitting at the Mullumbimby Farmers' Market with a basket full of organic sprouts, native macadamias and local haloumi goat cheese, it's evident that Gabrielle Kas is a strong believer in organic produce.

“I come here to buy food that has nutritional value and no toxins,” the Mullumbimby resident said.

“After eating organically for so long I can really tell the difference. You get a higher nutritional value, not just empty nutrients, and it saves you in the long run.”

An inspection of fruit and vegetable prices at the Mullumbimby and Byron Bay farmers' markets proved supermarket produce is often more costly.

Ms Kas concedes she spends ‘a lot of money' on maintaining her organic diet and has fed her two children organic food since they were born.

The Northern Star asked Ballina-based dietician Wendy Durrell if the hype surrounding organic produce is warranted.

“I think it would be very difficult to have a purely organic diet, it's too narrow and restrictive,” she said.

“At the farmers' markets it is fresh, but the problem with fruit and veg in supermarkets is it is usually moved across state lines. They use ripening gas and potatoes can be not ripened for up to nine months.

“So the nutritional value is much higher with fresh food because it is not in storage. I would recommend it (organic produce), but an organic diet is too restrictive.

Ms Durrell said fruit and vegetables found in generic supermarkets often had only 50 per cent of its original nutritional value.

‘Know your farmer, know your food' allows a person to buy produce straight from the grower and gain an insight into what went into the production of their food.

A simple ‘certified organic' sign is like a blue ribbon stuck on the front of a seller's marquee, acting as a magnet to the most fickle of farmers' market customers.

But Coopers Shoot beef producer Brad Armstrong said he didn't need certification for people to know their farm was practising sustainability and organics.

“About one-in-30 people ask me if we use sprays,” he said. “We explain we don't use herbicides or pesticides and we grain feed our animals. I don't think it makes too much of a difference if we have a sign or not.”

Silas Long, of Blessed Bananas, found he couldn't compete with the larger banana growers at the food markets in Brisbane and Sydney.

“When I sell here at the markets, I sell close to 100 per cent of what I bring,” he said.

Looks like this toxic-free, paddock to plate produce craze is not subsiding any time soon.

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