by Susan Kapatoes, MHA, CPC

We have seen our food labeled with the word “organic”, but what does this word really mean in relation to the fruits, vegetables, and meat products that most of us consume on a daily basis?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the production of organic foods does not simply mean the avoidance of conventional chemicals. Organic farming supports overall system health by implementing a wide range of management practices to ensure biological diversity and soil fertility.

Organic farmers apply techniques used thousands of years ago, such as crop rotations and natural pest management in ways that are economically sustainable in today’s world. In order to ensure that you are getting a certified organic product, it is recommended to look for the USDA Certified Label on your food product:

Why is the USDA ORGANIC label important?

When you buy food products that have the USDA ORGANIC label, you are buying a product that has been produced using the quality standards that are required by the USDA in order for them to label a food as organic. This means that the commodity was grown using “organic” industry practices so that you can rest assured that you are getting a legitimate organic food source.

“Organic” is a labeling term that signifies goods that were produced under the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990. The OFPA gave rise to a new USDA National Organic Program (NOP) that implemented national standards for the production, handling, and processing of organically grown agricultural products. Producers who meet standards set by the NOP may label their products as “USDA Certified Organic.”

The key factors that comprise organic farming principles include:

  • Reduction or elimination of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, or other materials such as hormones and antibiotics.
  • Use of crop rotations and natural techniques to manage weeds & insects, maximize biological activity, and maintain long-term soil health.
  • A focus on environmental biodiversity, soil and water conservation, and management practices that restore, support and enhance ecological balance.

The USDA does not guarantee that organic agriculture practices are completely free of all synthetic chemical residues, but methods are used by the organic farmers to minimize the pollution from our air, soil and water to the best of their ability in order to meet the quality standards as set forth by the USDA requirements.

What Defines an Organic Food Product?   

The USDA defines organic vegetables, meat, poultry, & dairy products as the following:

“Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.” Consumer Brochure, USDA National Organic Program. 2007.

When you visit a local farm, inquire whether they are USDA Certified Organic. It can be a costly process to apply and maintain an organic certification from the USDA, especially for smaller farms. If your local farm is not USDA Certified but practices organic farming, I would recommend that you talk with the farm owner and do your research so that you become familiar with their operation. Once you are acquainted with their implementation process, then you can make an informed decision whether you would like to purchase their produce or buy it elsewhere.

Get Involved with your Local Organic CSA

In order to learn more about the organic farming industry and increase your consumption of organic foods, there is no better way than to get involved with a local organic farm that offers a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. In a CSA, you become a shareholder of that farm. A “shareholder” is defined as a CSA subscriber (you) and a “share” is the season subscription that you pay to the farmer at the beginning of the growing season. This arrangement allows farmers to buy the seeds, transplants, and other supplies they need for the growing season.

In this way, you participate in the risks and rewards of a bountiful harvest. Most CSA’s also offer a working share – in exchange for a reduced price, members can work a certain number of hours at the farm each week. This arrangement allows for members to forge a stronger connection with the land and various aspects of the agricultural process.

For other members, a social occasion such as a potluck or harvest celebration can help them to integrate more fully into the CSA. With either option, you decide how involved you would like to become. Regardless of which path you choose, you will enjoy the benefits of the season’s harvest knowing that you are consuming healthy organic foods that are coming straight from the farm to your dinner table. It doesn’t get much better than that!

I recently located an organic CSA in the town where I live, and I am very grateful to have discovered this resource so close to my home. The CSA is called The Farm at Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary in Sharon, Massachusetts.

The Moose Hill Farm CSA  

The philosophy at the Moose Hill CSA is three-fold. Firstly, they practice certified organic farming in order to provide fresh and healthy produce for the community. The farm is certified through Baystate Organic Certifiers, an accredited certifier of the USDA Organic Certification program. Additionally, they do have the USDA ORGANIC label in plain view on their website.

Secondly, the aspect of community is an important part of the Moose Hill CSA Program. The members support each other with the goal of building a community of like-minded people who care about the quality of food they put into their mouths and the future sustainability of the environment.

As part of the community atmosphere, shareholders can invest a small portion of their time towards supporting the farm. There are many ways to get involved. Members can work in the fields, do comparison shopping, deliver produce to local food pantries, or tend to activities in the Farm Stand.

A group of volunteers weeding the fields at Moose Hill Farm. Photo courtesy of the Moose Hill CSA.

Thirdly, Moose Hill CSA has partnerships with local farms and businesses who share a similar passion for supporting organic agriculture. The CSA has working relations with Ward’s Berry Farm and the Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, both of which are located in Sharon, Massachusetts. Moose Hill also provides fresh fish from Cape Ann Fresh Catch out of Gloucester and they sell honey made from local beekeepers who house their hives in the Moose Hill fields.

These collaborative partnerships has allowed the Moose Hill CSA to build a model where each partner benefits for the good of the whole. This is a wonderful way to operate.

Here is a short video clip of the Moose Hill Farm CSA. I love the personalization of the harvesting – at the end of this video, the names of the people who helped with the harvesting and preparation of the fruits and vegetables are listed, reminding us that we are all in this together. Nice touch!

Growth of Organic Agriculture in the United States

According to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, there has been a steady growth in the number of U.S. certified organic farms and businesses since the count began in 2002.  In April of 2017, the USDA reported that there are 24,650 certified organic farming operations in the United States, a 70 percent increase since 2008. This steady growth reflects an increased awareness by the general public regarding the value of organic products.

Due to social media, television programs, radio shows, newspapers, and online magazines, people have more access to information than they ever did before. This expanded means to a wider body of knowledge allows people to make informed choices about the quality of their food and the future of their health.

Closing Thoughts

The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of the soil, plants, animals and people. Organic farming involves much more than choosing not to use pesticides, fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, antibiotics and growth hormones. The organic process is a holistic system designed to be sustainable and harmonious with the environment, ensuring that future generations can enjoy the bountiful harvests of produce and meat products that are cultivated in our fields today.

If you live in the Sharon, Massachusetts area, please visit the Moose Hill CSA or get involved with your local organic farm. There are many ways to get connected to the health & wellness movement while having fun at the same time. When we join together for a common cause that is benefiting the greater health of our community, we are setting an example for others and serving humanity for a wonderful purpose!

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Please Contact Me for a Holistic Health Coaching consultation if you are interested in learning more about organic foods and how they can be incorporated into your daily routine.

 

Resources
USDA National Agricultural Library
USDA Agricultural Marketing Service
The Farm at Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary

by Susan Kapatoes, MHA, CPC

The purpose of this article is to illuminate the symbiotic relationship between nutrition and meditation and why it is important to get these two into proper alignment. The foods that you are eating on a daily basis will influence your ability to think clearly and meditate effectively, so you’ll want to be mindful of your diet as you begin to experience the benefits of meditation which include an increase in calmness, improved mental clarity, and the ability to soothe the stress and anxiety of everyday living.

Before we get into the dietary aspects, I would like to provide a bit of information about myself as I have always been interested in the world of nutrition starting from a very young age. When I was about 7 years old, I used to love to eat cold cereal. As I ate my bowl of Cheerios, I placed several other boxes of cereal in front of me so I could read their nutrition labels as I enjoyed my breakfast.

At this young age, I did not know the meaning of carbohydrates, protein, or fat but I was fascinated with the percentages and intently compared each box against the other. Thus began my interest in the wellness arena. Since those early days of reading cereal labels, I have since earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition and continue to be mindful of the foods that I consume on a daily basis.

What Is Meditation?

Meditation is a self-directed practice for relaxing the body and calming the mind. Most meditative techniques have come to the West from Eastern practices in India, China, and Japan. It has a long history of use for promoting physical relaxation, improving emotional composure, decreasing stress, and enhancing overall health and well-being.

There are many types of meditation, but most have four elements in common: (1) a quiet location, (2) a comfortable posture, (3) a focus of attention, and (4) a mindful attitude of letting distractions come and go without judging them.

Your Dietary Habits Will Influence Your Mind 

As you begin to meditate, it will be important that you become aware of the foods that you are consuming on a daily basis because the quality of your dietary intake will have an influence upon your meditative experience. Feeding your body a nourishing diet is a key for success because this will give your system a steady stream of energy along with all the vitamins and minerals it needs to obtain optimal health.

If you consistently suffer from blood sugar highs and lows on a day to day basis, you will have greater difficulty getting into the meditative state and holding it there for an extended period of time. Ideally, you want to be able to ‘get into the zone’ as easily as possible and maintain that state of mind as you progress through your session.

If you experience a blood sugar crash mid-way through, your body will pull you away from that meditative state and take you out of the zone. With this being said, here are some health-giving tips that will help to keep your mind in that reflective focus. After reading this blog, you will have a better idea of how to eat right in order to experience the best meditation results.

The Importance of Carbohydrates

Eating the right type of carbohydrates can not only boost your health, they can help you to concentrate and meditate more efficiently. According to the American Diabetes Association, carbohydrates are the main source of energy for our body. We also intake energy in the form of protein and fats. For this discussion, we will be spotlighting our attention on carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates are the sugars, starches, and fibers found in fruits, grains, vegetables and milk products. They are called carbohydrates because, at the chemical level, they contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Carbohydrates are important for many functions within our body, including brain performance and blood sugar optimization.

Through research that has been performed over the years, it has been discovered that not all carbohydrates are created equally. Choosing the right kind of carbs to consume in your diet will have a beneficial impact upon your meditative experience.

Carbohydrates:  The Good vs. Bad

In general, there are two types of carbohydrates that we consume in our diet: non-processed (good) and processed (bad). The processed or simple carbs are found in candy, soda and syrups. These foods are made with refined sugars and typically do not have vitamins, minerals or fiber. This is why they are frequently called “empty calories.”

The non-processed or complex carbs are often found in starchy foods such as beans, peas, potatoes, corn, and whole-grain breads and cereal. These carbs get absorbed more slowly into our systems, avoiding spikes in blood sugar levels, thereby providing a more sustained energy level.

Processed carbs, on the other hand, cause bursts of energy much more quickly than complex carbs because of the quicker rate at which they are digested and absorbed. The processed carbs can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels causing “sugar highs” which in turn can also cause “sugar lows.”

Common Sources of  Non-Processed Carbs:

  • Whole Grains
  • Fruits & Vegetables
  • Nuts & Seeds
  • Beans & Legumes
  • Meat, Poultry, Seafood

Common Sources of Processed Carbs:

  • White Bread & Pasta
  • Soda & Syrups
  • Donuts & Pastry
  • Candy & Sweets
  • White Rice

Maintaining Homeostasis

If you eat two donuts and drink a can of soda at the same time, you will experience a temporary boost of energy. This is due to the insulin rapidly taking the sugar from your bloodstream and bringing it into the cells so the sugar can be used as energy. But, as that sugar is removed from the bloodstream, you’ll then suffer from a significant blood glucose crash, which will probably leave you ravenous, irritable, and very unable to concentrate.

The above explanation is a simplified version of how refined sugar is assimilated in your physical body, but it gives you an idea of how simple carbohydrates, such as white sugar, can influence your mood due to the way they are metabolized in the body. This is why it is important that you are not over consuming refined or processed carbohydrates, especially right before you begin a meditation.

It is best to focus on getting primarily unprocessed carbs in your diet, including whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans. These types of carbs will aid the body in maintaining an environment of homeostasis which is defined as the stable state of an organism. Natural, wholesome foods provide a healthy source of fuel for the body, and they also contain a bounty of essential nutrients.

Light Meals Beforehand

There is a reason why meditation teachers and seasoned practitioners recommend waiting 1 to 2 hours after eating a meal to begin a meditation. This general rule has to do with the digestive process. If you try to meditate immediately after eating, you might feel sluggish and struggle to stay awake because the body streams more blood to the digestive system, and the brain releases serotonin that causes drowsiness.

Eating a large, heavy meal before meditating might be the most significant blunder that you could make as you settle into a comfortable position to begin your meditation. You want to make sure that you are feeling content, but not over satiated as this could cause lethargy.  If you are going to eat within 60 minutes of doing your meditation, keep it to small portions that contain around 300 calories which is more like a snack. Fresh fruit, a handful of almonds, or drinking a nutritious smoothie are all healthy choices.

Closing Thoughts

Meditation is part of a collective health and wellness program which includes taking care of your physical body while nourishing a strong mind. By eating right, you can maintain better concentration throughout your meditations.

Consider meditation as exercise for the mind, the same way that a jog or a session of yoga can help to strengthen your body. If you think about what you eat before you meditate the same way that you think about what you eat before you do physical exercise, you will be in good shape.

For overall well-being, it is best to choose wholesome and healthy foods that comprise the majority of your diet. Incorporating meditation into your daily life, even if it is just for five minutes a day, will cultivate centeredness and mental equanimity. By aligning these two elements, proper nutrition, and meditation, you will experience a more consistent state of health and balance.