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Thursday, June 19, 2003 02:20 pm

Going Organic

For local caterer and cooking instructor Julianne Glatz, using organic ingredients comes naturally. She grew up on an organic farm and her grandparents, Robert and Esther Stevens, sold organic produce for more than 20 years in Springfield. "My grandmother was into health foods before it was the fashionable thing to do," she says.

Today, Glatz is one of many local residents and chefs who appreciate the benefits of eating foods grown without potentially harmful synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Produce is grown without petroleum- or sludge-based fertilizers, genetic-engineering techniques, or ionizing radiation.

Organic farmers try to implement natural systems that consider everything from the kinds of seeds used to encouraging biodiversity. By using no pesticides, fewer birds, insects, and rodents are killed. This in turn promotes soil fertility and prevents harmful pests and diseases. The lack of chemicals also benefits the soil, water, and air.

While organic food may make people feel better knowing it's grown without the use of chemicals, many believe it simply tastes better.

"I use organic ingredients whenever I can," says Glatz, and she's not alone. According to the Organic Trade Association, one-third of U.S. consumers currently buy organically grown products--sales grew fivefold to more than $5.5 billion between 1990 and 1998. "I feel like it's unadulterated food. In many ways, it's not what's in it, it's what's not in it."

In 2002, the U.S. Department of Agriculture came up with new rules for labeling foods as organic. "The new standards will guarantee the integrity of organic products," says Margaret Wittenberg, vice president of governmental and public affairs at Whole Foods Market. A nationally recognized expert on sustainable agriculture with nearly 25 years of experience in natural and organic foods, Wittenberg played an integral role in the creation of the national standards. Whole Foods Market, which started in 1980 as a single small grocery store in Texas, is now the world's largest retailer of natural and organic foods, with 140 supermarkets across the country, including nine in Chicago and its suburbs. The closest store to Springfield is in the St. Louis suburb of Brentwood.

Shoppers can now look for USDA-approved stickers certifying the product as organic. There are three classifications:

• "100% Organic" -- The product contains only organically produced ingredients.

• "Organic" -- The product contains at least 95 percent organic ingredients.

• "Made With Organic Ingredients" -- The product contains at least 70 percent organic ingredients.

While the trend toward healthier eating has increased the demand for organic products nationwide, the bias has been slower to catch on in these parts. When Stu Kainste moved to the central Illinois farm belt from New York City 30 years ago, he actually found it more difficult to obtain organically grown produce. He helped run the King Harvest Co-op, long the only natural foods store in Springfield, for "at least" 15 years. "Sangamon State was a really progressive place back then," Kainste says. "Dick Durbin was the attorney on the co-op's founding papers, before he was famous." The defunct grocery started in a church basement and moved locations many times; its most prominent home was at 12th and South Grand. At one time, as many as 500 families were involved.

"I've been eating this way for a long, long time," says Kainste, who now manages Food Fantasies, a local health food grocery. "You feel much better. It's a no-brainer." A wide variety of organic foods--from fruits to nuts, poultry to peas--can be found year-round at Food Fantasies and in the summer months at the farmer's market held near the Old State Capitol. Even most supermarket chains now offer some organic products--Meijer has a particularly good produce section--but Glatz says that Springfield is still lagging behind other central Illinois cities like Champaign.

"I think the agriculture industry here makes it a little harder," she says. "You feel like a pioneer doing this sometimes."

The only downside to buying organic products is that they are generally more expensive.

"Of course it costs more," says Glatz. "It's quantity versus quality. It's a holistic kind of thing and it makes environmental sense."

Reasons to buy organic
Supports small farms
Keeps chemicals off your plate
Air and groundwater not contaminated with pesticides
Better flavor and nourishment
Prevents soil erosion

Information and organic food sources On the Web
Organic Trade Association: www.ota.com
United States Department of Agriculture: www.usda.gov

Various organic farmers sell produce at the Springfield FarmerÕs Market, held during the summer months.
Here are two year-round sources.
Food Fantasies (www.foodfantasies.com), 1512 W. Wabash, Springfield; 217-793-8009. Fresh organic produce delivered Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Paul Gebhardt Farms, Inc., 2147 N. 1400 E Road, Edinburg, 62531; 217-325-3250. Sells organic chicken, turkey, and pork.

Nut Loaf
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Saute in 1/4 cup of water:
1 1/2 cups chopped organic celery
3 medium organic onions, chopped

Combine with: 3/4 cup organic pecan or sunflower meal
(blend whole nuts in blender until very fine)
2 to 2 1/2 cups nut milk
(blend 1 1/2 cups cold water with 1/2 cup cashew nut butter in blender)
1/2 teaspoon sage or 1 1/4 teaspoon thyme
3/4 cup chopped organic walnuts
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoon basil

Mix together. Then add: 6 slices Zekiel bread, torn into small pieces. Mix well. Place in lightly oiled 8-by-11-inch loaf pan. Bake for 1 1/2 hours. Cover with foil near end of baking if top begins to brown.

Recipe provided by Food Fantasies.

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