As every seed-catalog-perusing gardener knows, there are approximately 4,372,912 possible fruits or vegetables to choose from when planning our gardens each year. Or, something like that.
[Note: It's possible that I pulled that number out of thin air. Probable, in fact. Ok, I have absolutely NO proof that there are really 4,372,912 different fruits and vegetables to choose from when planning a garden. It just feels that way.]
Except for the very lucky, most of us gardeners just don’t have enough space to grow everything we want to grow and eat. So, we’ve got to choose. This is no easy task. How do we choose between cucumbers and cantaloupe, green beans and sweet peas? And, what about the perennial crops? Should we grow strawberries or asparagus? Planning on some fruit-bearing trees or shrubs? Even more decisions to make!
There are plenty of ways to make these decisions. What do we like to cook with? What do we like to preserve, or give as gifts, or sell at the market? What looks prettiest (this is playing an ever-larger role in my not-allowed front yard vegetable garden).
But, what about this as a way to choose: What conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables are typically the most contaminated by pesticides?
Put another way: What fruits and vegetables are best to grow at home because their non-organic supermarket counterparts are likely to be coated with pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and other nasties?
That’d be a pretty good way to choose the fruits and vegetables for your garden, yes?
Well, at least, I think it’s a pretty good way to choose. But — full disclosure — I’m one of those fanatical people who believe that life-killing chemicals don’t belong on my food or in my body. Yeah, I grow organic.
Luckily, for those of us who want to skip the chemicals as much as possible, the Environmental Working Group publishes a Dirty Dozen list of the most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables every year. They just released their list for 2012, and it includes some great choices for the garden: cucumbers, sweet bell peppers (#3 on the list! Yikes!), strawberries, spinach, lettuce and more. In fact, here’s the whole list:
- sweet bell peppers
- nectarines (imported)
- blueberries (USA-grown)
Plus, this year, the list includes two additional vegetables — green beans and kale/collard greens — that don’t qualify for the official 12-most-contaminated list, but are worth mentioning because they are frequently contaminated with organophosphate insecticides, which are toxic to the nervous system.
That’s the Dirty Dozen (plus two), and many thanks to EWG for putting together this list every year. They mean for the list to be a resource for shoppers, I believe. Something to help guide the decision of when to buy organic versus conventional produce (download an easy-to-carry PDF from the EWG website). It’s also a great tool for raising awareness about potentially dangerous contaminants in our food supply.
But, for us gardeners, the Dirty Dozen can be another thing entirely. It can be a planning tool. A shopping list.
So, if you’ve got space for only one more vining crop, and are trying to choose between cucumbers or cantaloupe melons, this list may help you decide; cucumbers rank #10 on the most-contaminated list, while cantaloupes rank #11 on the EWG’s Clean 15 list, which summarizes the least contaminated produce. Likewise, if you’re torn between planting strawberries or asparagus, this list might convince you to go with the berries (though, homegrown asparagus is so so tasty!).
Of course, there are other ways to avoid the nasty chemicals on those Dirty Dozen crops. Every single item on that list is regularly available as a USDA-certified organic item in most grocery stores. And, depending on where you live, many of these crops might also be available from chemical-free growers at your local farmers’ market. But, of course, the best way to know you can trust your food to be safe and chemical free is to grow it yourself. Tastes better that way too!
What do you think? Will you use the EWG’s list as a guide at the grocery store, or when planning your garden?