Area stores begin to get organic message

Sunday News
Jon Rutter
June 9, 1996

In Lancaster last summer, eating organically took a little effort from Hylon Plumb and Anita Pilkerton. First they had to drive to Strasburg to pick up produce from a community-supported garden. Then they had to find ways to use an abundance of vegetables like leeks and turnips, which Plumb wasn't familiar with.

“We definitely had to get more inventive,” he said. “Our cooking style did change to some degree.”

They deemed the venture a success, however. This summer, they're looking to join another organic food co-op.

With help from consumers like Plumb and Pilkerton, organic food may soon venture from obscurity here.

Currently, locals have few organic options. Supermarkets with natural food formats, like Fresh Fields, have not made it to this area. And none of the four or five Giant stores that carry organic produce is located here, said spokesman Rich Pasewark.

Organically grown fruits and vegetables cost about a third more than food grown with commercial pesticides and fertilizers, said Lucy Miller, manager of the Community Natural Foods Store in New Holland.

Pasewark and others said consumers face no significant health risk from pesticide residues.

But consumers like Ed Fulmer, of Lancaster, draw a connection between diet and disease. Commercial farming techniques rob soil and plants of nutrients the body needs to fight off degenerative illnesses such as heart disease and cancer, he claimed.

Plumb, who is also worried by agriculture's impact on the environment, said eating organic food makes him feel better psychologically.

Organic food is in greatest demand among well-educated, affluent consumers, said Pasewark. The market, concentrated in large cities, is slowly spreading here as more urbanites move in, according to those in the industry.

“We do have requests for organic produce,” said Greg Henkel, who owns Rhubarb's Market with his wife, Sheila. “It's something we're looking at and hopefully will be able to do in the future.”

At Four Seasons Produce Inc. in Denver, organics now make up 5 percent of the business, said executive vise president Philip Rutt. But they could expand to 25 percent within five years.

The wholesaler, which recently started an organic foods division, buys much of its produce from California, Rutt said. Now, he added, Four Seasons would like to explore connections with local growers.

“We're anxious to do that provided we can get enough volume through.”

In recent years, farmers have been perfecting large-scale organic agriculture. Organic food looks as good as conventionally grown food and also keeps as well, Rutt said.

Some people argue those points. Fulmer would add two more.

Organics have better color, he said. Some of them taste better. “I'm increasingly going toward organic food. It's not just a faddish kind of extremist thing.”