Katharine A. Jameson

These days, everything seems like it has its own catch phrase: ‘Heirloom’. ‘Artisanal’. ‘Organic’. From ‘natural’ or ‘non-GMO’ to ‘classic’, foods don’t only carry a brand name, but an often-convoluted description of what they are and the purpose they serve. Products that are labeled ‘all-natural’, or ‘cage free’ can mean very little.

We’re taught to ‘shop local’ or ‘buy organic’, look for the ‘non-GMO’ label or to buy from a certain region. We are fed so much different info that it seems nearly impossible not to grow skeptical when trying to be healthy. Often we hear that farmer’s market produce is ‘pesticide free’, but what does that mean? Is it herbicide free and fungicide and chemical fertilizer free? The more free our food gets, the more it seems to cost.

Growth in growing.

Some local farmers’ markets feature growers who were born into it, but taking farms to scale as a large businesses, whether locally or nationally, is no small feat. “Mo money mo problems” may translate into “mo land, mo pests” when growing on a bigger scale. After all, how can you tend the rows personally when you decide to grow big?

On the land they’ve tended for four generations, the Tamai family does just that. Their personal touch seems to make their produce glow. It’s set out in a colorful bounty across tables and under tents on the rainy afternoon I stop by to meet Gloria. She laughs gently when she can’t recall exactly how many years she’s attended the Wednesday farmer’s market, but has been a staple here for over four decades. Her customers have become her friends. When I ask if she has any favorites, she diplomatically tells me that they all are.

Like many smaller local farms, the Tamais have resisted certifying organic. The process is lengthy and expensive and the forty acres that once cost them $125 an acre to rent has skyrocketed to $3000 an acre over the years. With fuel prices to contend with, they’ve had to raise their prices just to soften the blow. “We’re trying to keep the prices down, but it’s so hard because everything is so expensive.”

Soil Health.

Soil health is pivotal for good quality produce and much of our soil across America is devoid of nutrients. Many regenerative or sustainable farms focus on soil health by returning organic matter to the soil, as the Tamais do with compost and the remnants of their crops. Chemical fertilizers wreck the soil and are harmful for our health, not to mention the environment.

You can tell the difference in produce grown in healthy soil. The Tamais’ beets burst with electric color, almost as if someone had dyed them. Farmers attribute produce’s color to the density of nutrients in the soil and optimum levels of phosphorus.

Produce starts to lose its taste and nutrient profile within 48 hours of being harvested. (Most of what we buy in stores is long past its prime in this sense). The Tamais harvest their crop the night before they deliver it to Santa Monica’s Wednesday farmer’s market, which means it’s some of the freshest around.

With their brightly colored greens, root veggies and ruby red berries surrounding us, Gloria Tamai discusses using biodiversity practices in growing their crops. She says they use lady bugs to protect their strawberries, making it possible to only use pesticides deemed appropriate for organic produce elsewhere on the farm. The ladybugs eat the pests that bother the strawberries, somehow sparing the berries themselves.

What really matters.

Shop local, ask questions. Buying local mitigates the harmful effects on the environment when food travels a long distance, but it’s not the only thing to consider. Conventional farming is tougher on the earth and on soil than organic farming is, as it captures less carbon and pours more contaminants into the soil, which ultimately run into our rivers, streams and oceans.

Multiple chemicals used in conventional farming have been linked to cancer and many scientists speculate that they’re contributing to the rise of ADHD in young people. When we can’t buy local, organic produce, what factors should go into our choices?

Talking points.

Talk to the farmers. What do they use on their produce? How do they grow their crops while avoiding sprays? Are they using pest management? Fertilizers? Ask if they use herbicides or fungicides. Fungicide residues were recently detected on 90 percent of conventional citrus samples that were studied.

Getting certified organic is expensive and time consuming and it’s not foolproof. Organic farming still uses sprays and there are tons of loopholes to get through, if the farmers want to.

Buy as locally as possible and always try to buy thin skinned fruits and veggies (aka the dirty dozen,) organically if possible…and if your wallet permits.

Roasted Carrots with Harissa Yogurt


1 bunch rainbow carrots
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

Salt and pepper – to taste

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 clove garlic, pressed

1 tablespoon harissa spice (I use dry)

2 tablespoons mint, finely chopped (add more if desired)


Preheat oven to 400° F.

Scrub carrots with a vegetable brush. Trim tops and cut into half lengthwise.

Place on parchment paper lined baking sheet.
Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and toss.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake for 20 minutes, flipping once or until tender.

In a small mixing bowl, add yogurt, lemon juice and zest, garlic, harissa spice and mint.

Stir. Add salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate to allow the flavors to meld. *

Drizzle carrots with yogurt or serve sauce on side with mint garnish.

* Recommendation: prepare yogurt sauce first and refrigerate for a few hours prior to serving.