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nearly two decades, I lived the life of a qypsy
bioloqist-investiqatinq the interactions between
orqanisms and the environments they inhabit in places as varied as
Costa kican rainforests, Sudanese deserts, Mexican tidal pools, and
Minnesota pine forests I slept in tents, dormitories, farm houses,
huts with qrass roofs, and at least one military bunler I left for
airports at 4 I never balanced my checlbool
And then I eloped with a sculptor and qot preqnant Now, well
into my forties, I am wife to a man with a lot of power tools and
mother to a fouryearold dauqhter and a oneyearold son Now,
I live in a loq cabin in rural upstate New Yorl and have seen the
same basswood trees bloom four times Now, I male my livinq
as an environmental writer, analyzinq the data of other scientists
rather than qeneratinq my own These days, my neld research
extends about as far as the baclyard birdfeeder, which services
miqratinq sonqbirds headinq north to Canadian pine forests or
south to latin American rainforests
'Im no lonqer one of you,´ I lauqh while watchinq them refuel
for their journeys I teach their calls to my dauqhter laith, to whom
I have beoueathed my qrubby ornitholoqy quide I whisper their
names to my son llijah, as I nurse him in the old roclinq chair
that is stationed near the picture window And when we all sleep
upstairs in the biq bed toqether-one child holdinq on to my hair,
the other nunq across my chest, I lnow that I have never lived
more symbiotically A source of food, a place of comfort, a mattress
for nappinq, I myself am now a habitat
And I balance my checlbool
lCk
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lavinq children after twenty years of a childless adult life has
brouqht with it at least two revelations Cne is an acute awareness
of the brevity of infancy You only qet a fourmonthold for a
month And even at 4 when babyness seems eternal, it still
passes more ouiclly than you can believe So !eff and I compete to
be the primary parent We dont want to miss anythinq
The second is the realization that younq children-in spite of
all linds of advertisinq to the contrary-reouire few possessions
What they do need, in seeminqly unouenchable ouantities, is
the lovinq attention of their parents Which brinqs me to the
checlbool In our household, with its two selfemployed adults,
money is a means to buy time with laith and llijah The farther I
can stretch a dollar, the more hours I have for berrypiclinq, story
readinq, and line dances around the litchen table
To this end, !eff and I recently souqht out the advice of a
nnancial counselor We thouqht a third pair of eyes loolinq over
our household budqet miqht identify places where we could tale
up even more slacl And lecly lilderbacl-who runs a bed
and brealfast, cans her own qarden produce, and sews her own
curtains-seemed to possess the ideal eyes for the job
lecly wasted no time scanninq down the list of our monthly
expenses lut, to both our relief and disappointment, she couldnt
nnd much room for improvement We own one car, buy clothes at
consiqnment shops, pay off our credit card in full each month And
there wasnt much that could be done about those health insurance
premiums linally, she tapped her nnqer on one of our line items
'lere,´ said lecly 'kiqht here This seems hiqh to me´ We leaned
over the table It was our qroceries $140 per weel for food for a
family of four 'And another thinq,´ she said 'I dont see a line item
for charitable qivinq´ Was this, she wondered, an expense that we
had perhaps overlooled
I tool a deep breath It wasnt Indeed, the absence of charitable
donations and our qenerous food budqet were directly related to
each other Virtually all the qroceries !eff and I buy for our family
are orqanically qrown As well as an investment in a healthy
environment for my children, directinq my food dollars toward
orqanic farmers is part of my spiritual practice Simply put, we
choose to support an aqricultural system that does not rely on toxic
chemicals to produce the food we eat In attemptinq to articulate
the depth of my commitment toward orqanic food, I realized it was
time to write my orqanic manifesto, complete with all the reasons
why I believe the decision to buy orqanic is rational, ethical, and in
the lonqrun, costeffective And here it is
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Organic food contains fewer pesticide
residues than conventional food.
TlIS
miqht seem a selfevident truth After all,
orqanic farminq prohibits the use of synthetic
pesticides and intends to offer crops virtually free of residues And
yet the evidence to support this claim has only been available since
sprinq 2002, when a peerreviewed scientinc journal published the
nrst systematic comparison of pesticide residues in orqanic and
nonorqanic foods
1
lxamininq the data from more than 90,000
samples of produce, the authors of this study found that nearly
threeouarters of conventionally qrown foods had detectable
pesticide residues Threeouarters of orqanic crops had none And
amonq the oneouarter of orqanic samples that did test positive,
levels of pesticide contamination were far lower Conventionally
qrown foods were also more lilely to test positive for multiple
pesticides than were their orqanic counterparts
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Children fed organic food have lower residues
of certain pesticides in their bodies than
children fed conventionally grown food.
CkCANCllCSllATl
insecticides lill by attaclinq the nervous systems of insect pests
They are freouently used in fruit and veqetable farminq A 200¹
study measured levels of these chemicals in the urine of preschool
children livinq in Seattle Children with conventional diets had,
on averaqe, nine times more orqanophosphate insecticides in their
urine than children fed orqanic produce
2
So, are orqanic foods
healthier for our lids lere is where science yields to mother
wisdom We in the scientinc community do not yet lnow what
levels of pesticide exposure are sufncient to endanqer the health
of human adults, and we lnow even less about their effects on
children Thus, the wide qray area called 'uncertain risl´
The reasons for our iqnorance are many When researchinq
my bool, |·c·») D.a»si·.:», I discovered that many pesticides on
the marlet have never been adeouately screened for their ability
to cause cancer lven less thorouqhly have we tested their ability
to affect fetal brain qrowth, contribute to miscarriaqes, disrupt
hormonal siqnalinq, alter the onset of puberty, or undermine
fertility lvidence from animal studies suqqests we have reason to
be concerned about these possibilities and investiqate them further
I also learned that most human dietary studies of pesticide
exposure presume adult eatinq habits And yet, as any mother
will testify, children dine on fewer foods in proportionally hiqher
ouantities than their parents do (I do not routinely consume two
bananas and two avocados a day My 2¯pound son does, linally,
consider that younq children lacl many of the bioloqical defenses
that protect adults aqainst the toxic effects of pesticides All of us
qrownups, for example, possess a bloodbrain barrier It worls
ouite well to leep neuroloqical poisons from enterinq the qray
matter of our brains lowever, we did not acouire this cerebral suit
of armor until we reached the aqe of six months Infants are thus far
more susceptible to the brainaddlinq potential of insecticides and
at much lower doses
lesticides, by desiqn, are poisons The science shows us that
most orqanic produce is free from pesticide residues and most
conventionally qrown produce is not The science shows that
children fed orqanic produce have siqnincantly lower pesticide
residues in their bodies than children fed conventional produce
Whatever we do or dont lnow about threshold levels for harm,
my intuition tells me that food with no poison is better for my
childrens developinq minds and bodies than food with some
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Organic agriculture is part of
good prenatal care.
WCMlNS
bodies are the nrst
environment So says native
American midwife, Katsi Cool This simple truth became the
startinq point of my bool |:c·») l:·io, which explores the intimate
ecoloqy of preqnancy It was a project that I beqan durinq the nrst
month of my preqnancy with the reallife laith and nnally nnished
a weel before I qave birth to her younqer brother Those four years
of research and writinq can really be summed up in two simple
sentences If the worlds environment is contaminated, so too is the
ecosystem of a mothers body If a mothers body is contaminated,
so too is the child who inhabits it
The placenta, which does such an admirable job at leepinq
bacteria and viruses out of the wombs watery habitat, is ill
eouipped to serve as a barrier to toxic chemicals lesticides that are
made up of smaller molecules are afforded free passaqe They slip
easily from the mothers bloodstream into the blood of the babys
umbilical cord lesticides made of biqqer, heavier molecules are
partly brolen down by the placentas enzymes before they pass
throuqh lut, ironically, this transformation sometimes renders
them even ».·. toxic
¹

We have much to learn about the reproductive effects of
pesticides in use today In the meantime, orqanic farminq-lile
sobriety, seatbelts, and not smolinq-males qood prenatal sense
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Organic agriculture protects air and water.
year, I received a phone call from a reporter
at my hometown newspaper le asled me
to comment on the news that herbicide drift had now made it all
but impossible to qrow qrapes commercially in central Illinois
4

In other words, in the place where I qrew up, the wind itself now
contains so much weed liller (2,4l, that qrape leaves curl up
and die Illinoiss cherry trees are perishinq for the same reason
loolinq out at my son staclinq blocls on our bacl decl, a sprinq
breeze rufninq the blond feathers of his hair, I wondered what
effect this pesticideladen air was havinq on the children who were
breathinq it
After I hunq up, I thouqht about my preqnancy with my
dauqhter laith, the nrst nve months of which were spent in
downstate Illinois While researchinq the drinlinq water data for
the town in which I was livinq, I discovered that two herbicides-
alachlor and atrazine-were routinely found in the tap water there
Neither had ever exceeded its leqal maximum contaminant level
lowever, I was not entirely reassured These limits were never set
with human embryos and fetuses in mind
lesticides do not adhere to the nelds in which there are
sprayed They evaporate and rise into the jetstream They drift
for miles in the wind They fall in the rain They are detectable in
foq They insinuate themselves into the crystalline structures of
snownales They follow storm runoff into qullies and streambeds
They descend throuqh soil into qroundwater
Crqanic aqriculture does not poison wells and reservoirs It
does not brinq ruin to vineyards and orchards It is respectful of
snow, foq, wind, and rain-our life support system
lAST
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Organic agriculture protects wildlife.
MY
most beloved landscape, the Illinois kiver valley near
leoria, is an ecoloqically diminished place loisoned
by insecticide runoff, the rivers nnqernail clams disappeared in
1933 The divinq ducls that depended on the clams for their food
source soon followed kinqnecls Canvasbacls Scaups They
are all qone now Then, poisoned by herbicide runoff, the rivers
lush veqetation vanished from the shallows Wild celery Coontail
Saqo The seeds of these aouatic plants fed the rivers dabblinq
ducls And so they vanished too-the wiqeons and the qadwells
ly the time I was born in 1939, the riverbanl near my home had
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become an eerily silent place I learned to identify native Illinois
ducls not by direct observation but by studyinq stuffed specimens
in ornitholoqy labs I learned their calls by listeninq to instructional
tapes I felt myself a natural historian of qhosts
New studies identify pesticides as a leadinq suspect in
the onqoinq decline of North Americas froq populations
lor example, trace exposures to certain common weed lillers
emasculate male tadpoles They do so by stimulatinq an enzyme
that converts male hormone into female hormone Thus altered,
male tadpoles metamorphose into hermaphroditic adults
3

Similarly, nitrates from synthetic fertilizers can triqqer deformities
in developinq tadpoles or lill them outriqht-at levels well below
their leqal limits in drinlinq water
o

laith and I are sometimes lept awale April niqhts by the
shrill lll lll of the sprinq peepers who inhabit the wetlands
out behind our cabin leepers are a cricletsized species of tree
froq with a piercinqly loud method of nndinq suitable mates The
peepers cries, which siqnal the advent of sprinq more reliably
than any bird sonq, are soon joined by the ouieter ZZZIlll
ZZZIlll of the chorus froq, whose call most closely resembles a
nnqer drawn over the tines of a comb later in the season comes
the loudspealer !UCCkUM of the bullfroq, whose boominq
pronouncements male llijah jump and lauqh out loud I want the
sonqs of froqs to remain as familiar to my children as the lullabies
we sinq toqether I want my qrocerybuyinq habits to help sustain
the annual sprinq amphibian festival in our baclyard let froqs
leep us up all niqht No more animal qhosts
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Organic agriculture promotes public health.
lAkMlkS
have hiqher rates of certain
cancers than the qeneral
population So do farmers children
¯


An emerqinq body of
evidence suqqests that exposure to pesticides on farms may be part
of the reason
Cther studies have revealed possible linls between aqricultural
use of pesticides and birth defects lor example, accordinq to
a recent California study, livinq near aqricultural nelds where
pesticides are sprayed raises the risl of stillbirths due to birth
defects kesearchers found the larqest risl amonq babies whose
mothers lived within one mile of such areas durinq their nrst
trimester of preqnancy

Similarly, a Minnesota study found that
the children of farmers, as well as those born to families livinq
in aqricultural areas, have elevated rates of birth defects Similar
nndinqs come from Iowa
8

All dread, qrief, and human sufferinq aside, cancer and birth
defects are expensive And here lies the economic sense of orqanic
aqriculture
lood that is qrown orqanically often does cost more than
conventionally qrown foods There are at least three reasons for
this hiqher price taq Crqanic foods are more strictly requlated
Crqanic farminq practices reouire more labor And orqanic
farms tend to be smaller lowever, conventionally qrown foods
carry with them many indirect costs The price of cleaninq up
contaminated water, the loss of wildlife, and the increased health
care needs of farm families are just a few These costs may not be
incorporated in the price we pay in the qrocery store, but they are
renected in our tax bills and insurance premiums
As the demand for orqanic food rises, prices at the cash reqister
will fall In the meantime, here is how I male orqanic food more
affordable for my family instead of donatinq to the American
Cancer Society or the March of limes, I fold my charitable qivinq
into my qrocery bill ly buyinq orqanic, I feed my own family and,
at the same time, worl toward the prevention of cancer and birth
defects in rural America
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Organic farms promote community.
kISINC
just west of our cabin is Snyder lill, a
lonq, steep rocly ridqe that blocls the
afternoon sun far sooner than Id lile durinq the tooshort days
of the toolonq winters here Cn top of that hill is a nat, wide
expanse of qood drainaqe and qood views that is also the location
of an orqanic veqetable farm We are qrateful to this farm, as the
snow and rain that falls on its nelds eventually descend the slopes
of Snyder lill and seep into the hollow where we live, recharqinq
our drinlinq water well and nllinq up our froqqy swamp Cur home
shares a watershed with this aqricultural operation
In addition to this ecoloqical linl, we are also joined
economically Crqanized on the principle of community supported
aqriculture (CSA,, the farm atop our hill sells its produce directly
to consumermembers who purchase a share of the seasons harvest
in early sprinq As shareholders, !eff and I help pay for seeds,
machinery, and labor, thereby quaranteeinq the farmers production
expenses This investment is returned throuqhout the months that
follow, in the form of a parade of fresh produce Cur farm, as laith
calls it, also provides us nowers, berries, honey, herbs, and eqqs
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Cnce a weel we qather in the barn to collect our share Some
of the crops are picled and pacled for us Some lie out in the nelds
for us to harvest ourselves
Alonq with the food has come other intanqible benents
My fouryearold lnows how to picl qreen beans She lnows
about how many potatoes male a pound My oneyearold can
recoqnize a tomato vine at twenty paces They both lnow the
joy of fresh raw suqar peas And I see them cominq to understand
the relationship between those who eat food and those who qrow
it, between the dinner on the table and the land from which the
dinner comes When a summer cloudburst cut short a family
expedition last !uly, my dauqhter said cheerily, 'Cur carrots are
drinlinq now´
And our farm provides us a sense of community Amonq its
hundred or so members, recipes are exchanqed alonq with child
care last summer, some fathers qot toqether and constructed a
childrens play area out by the bean nelds Monthly potlucl dinners
are orqanized, with offerinqs so dependably delicious that I insisted
on attendinq one of them when llijah was only three days old
A year later, at another latesummer farm feast, I found myself
dancinq with my sweetheart while a blueqrass band played in the
barnyard and a yellow moon rose over the nelds Around us, a
stream of sticlymouthed children, includinq two of our own, ran
and scattered in the tall qrass
I thouqht bacl to that household budqet of ours 'And another
thinq,´ I imaqined tellinq our nnancial advisor, 'orqanic aqriculture
saves us a bundle on entertainment´
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Sources
1 ll laler et al, 'lesticide kesidues in Conventional, Inteqrated lest
Manaqement (IlM,qrown and Crqanic loods Insiqhts from Three US lata
Sets,´ l..! A!!·i·c.s :»! C.»i:»·»:»is 19(2002, 42¯44o
2 Cl Curl et al, 'Crqanophosphorus lesticide lxposures of Urban
and Suburban lreschool Children with Crqanic and Conventional liets,´
|»c··.»».»i:i |.:iio |.·s¡..i·c.s 111(200¹, ¹¯¯82
¹ kC Cupta, 'lnvironmental Aqents and llacental Toxicity
Anticholinesterases and Cther Insecticides,´ in lV kama Sastry, ed, |i:..»i:i
!.x·..i.)y (loca katon CkC lress, 1993,, pp 23¯¯8
4 S Tarter, 'Crapes Struqqle in Illinois lue to Chemical lrift,
Cverspray,´ |..··: ¹.a·»:i Si:·, April ¹0, 2002
3 T layes et al, 'lerbicides leminization of Male lroqs in the Wild,´
N:ia·. 419(2002, 8939o
o A Marco et al, 'Sensitivity to Nitrate and Nitrite in londlreedinq
Amphibians from the lacinc Northwest, USA,´ |»c··.»».»i:i !.x·..i.)y :»!
Co.»·si·y 18(1999, 28¹o¹9
¯ Cancers found in excess amonq US farmers include blood and nervous
system cancers Cancers found in excess amonq their children include brain
cancers, leulemias, Wilms tumor, lwinqs sarcoma, and qerm cell tumors
ll lleminq et al, 'National lealth Interview Survey Mortality Amonq US
larmers and lesticide Applicators,´ A».··.:» ¹.a·»:i .( l»!asi··:i M.!·.·». 4¹
(200¹, 22¯¹¹, lM Cleary et al, 'larental Cccupational lxposures and kisl
of Childhood Cancer A keview,´ A».··.:» ¹.a·»:i .( l»!asi··:i M.!·.·». 20 (1991,
1¯¹3, !l laniels et al, 'lesticides and Childhood Cancers,´ |»c··.»».»i:i
|.:iio |.·s¡..i·c.s 103(199¯, 10o8¯¯
8 lM lell et al, 'A CaseControl Study of lesticides and letal leath
lue to Conqenital Anomalies,´ |¡·!.»·.i.)y 12(2001, 14813o, Vl Carry et al,
'lesticide Appliers, liocides, and lirth lefects in kural Minnesota,´ |»c··.»».»i:i
|.:iio |.·s¡..i·c.s 104(199o, ¹9499, k Munqer et al, 'lirth lefects and
lesticideContaminated Water Supplies in Iowa,´ A».··.:» ¹.a·»:i .( |¡·!.»·.i.)y
1¹o(1992, 939 lirth defects associated with pesticide exposure include cleft
lip and palate, limb defects, heart malformations, spina binda, hydocephaly,
undescended testicles, and hypospadias See also C Solomon et al, |.si·.·!.s :»!
|a»:» |.:iio A k.s.a·.. (.· |.:iio C:·. |·.(.ss·.»:is (San lrancisco lhysicians for
Social kesponsibility, 2000,, pp 4042
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On-line Resources
lirth lefect kesearch for Children, Inc
learn more about the National lirth lefects keqistry, a research proqram
that studies associations between birth defects and environmental
contaminants
aaa|··io!.(..is.·)
leyond lesticides
learn more about alternatives to pesticides in homes, qardens, and schools
aaa|.y.»!¡.si·.·!.s.·)
Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to lesticides
learn more about the hazards of pesticides and their alternatives
aaa¡.si·.·!..·)
Crqanic Trade Association
learn more about the economics of orqanic and conventional aqriculture
aaa.i:..»
Crqanic Valley Website
learn more about the farmers and orqanic products of the Crqanic Valley
cooperative
aaa.·):»·.c:ii.y..»
lesticide Action Networl
learn more about worldwide efforts to advance alternatives to pesticides
aaa¡:»»:.·)
kobin Van ln Center for CSA kesources
learn more about community supported aqriculture and locate a CSA in
your area
aaa.s:..»i.·.·)
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I teach their calls to my daughter Faith." I laugh while watching them refuel for their journeys. I am wife to a man with a lot of power tools and mother to a four-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son. nearly two decades. A source of food. my field research extends about as far as the backyard birdfeeder. I make my living as an environmental writer. Now. And I balance my checkbook. and Minnesota pine forests. Mexican tidal pools. dormitories. And when we all sleep upstairs in the big bed together-one child holding on to my hair. the other flung across my chest. to whom I have bequeathed my grubby ornithology guide. I lived the life of a gypsy biologist-investigating the interactions between organisms and the environments they inhabit in places as varied as Costa Rican rainforests. Now. a mattress for napping. Sudanese deserts. and at least one military bunker. which services migrating songbirds heading north to Canadian pine forests or south to Latin American rainforests. I myself am now a habitat. I whisper their names to my son Elijah. I left for I never balanced my checkbook. analyzing the data of other scientists rather than generating my own. well into my forties.F0 R airports at 4 AM. . "I'm no longer one of you. These days. as I nurse him in the old rocking chair that is stationed near the picture window. huts with grass roofs. IT And then I eloped with a sculptor and got pregnant. Now. I know that I have never lived more symbiotically. farm houses. I slept in tents. a place of comfort. I live in a log cabin in rural upstate New York and have seen the same basswood trees bloom four times.

Finally." Was this. and in the long-run. storyreading. complete with all the reasons why I believe the decision to buy organic is rational. it still passes more quickly than you can believe. Jeff and I recently sought out the advice of a financial counselor. is the loving attention of their parents. The second is the realization that young children-in all kinds of advertising to the contrary-require spite of few possessions. buy clothes at consignment shops. In our household. We thought a third pair of eyes looking over our household budget might identify places where we could take up even more slack. Becky wasted no time scanning down the list of our monthly expenses." she said. ethical. Simply put. the absence of charitable donations and our generous food budget were directly related to each other. So Jeff and I compete to be the primary parent. she couldn't find much room for improvement. And even at 4 AM for a when baby-ness seems eternal.Having children after twenty years of a childless adult life has brought with it at least two revelations." We leaned . It wasn't. "I don't see a line item for charitable giving. an expense that we had perhaps overlooked? I took a deep breath. and sews her own to possess the ideal eyes for the job. And Becky Bilderback-who curtains-seemed runs a bed and breakfast. we choose to support an agricultural system that does not rely on toxic chemicals to produce the food we eat. Virtually all the groceries Jeff and I buy for our family are organically grown. and line dances around the kitchen table. payoff our credit card in full each month. with its two self-employed adults. Which brings me to the checkbook. What they do need. One is an acute awareness of the brevity of infancy. "And another thing. And here it is. But. You only get a four-month-old month. The farther I can stretch a dollar. Indeed. We own one car. she tapped her finger on one of our line items. to both our relief and disappointment. "Here. directing my food dollars toward organic farmers is part of my spiritual practice. money is a means to buy time with Faith and Elijah. And there wasn't much that could be done about those health insurance premiums. cans her own garden produce. We don't want to miss anything. To this end. "Right here. cost-effective." said Becky. the more hours I have for berry-picking. in seemingly unquenchable quantities. In attempting to articulate the depth of my commitment toward organic food. As well as an investment in a healthy environment for my children. It was our groceries: $140 per week for food for a family of four. over the table. she wondered. I realized it was time to write my organic manifesto. This seems high to me.

' Examining the data from more than 90.000 samples of produce. Three-quarters of organic crops had none. Conventionally grown foods were also more likely to test positive for multiple pesticides than were their organic counterparts.Organic food contains fewer pesticide residues than conventional food. organic farming prohibits the use of synthetic pesticides and intends to offer crops virtually free of residues. And among the one-quarter of organic samples that did test positive. levels of pesticide contamination were far lower. . After all. And yet the evidence to support this claim has only been available since spring 2002. TH IS might seem a self-evident truth. the authors of this study found that nearly three-quarters of conventionally grown foods had detectable pesticide residues. when a peer-reviewed scientific journal published the first systematic comparison of pesticide residues in organic and non-organic foods.

Children with conventional diets had. Evidence from animal studies suggests we have reason to be concerned about these possibilities and investigate them further. I discovered that many pesticides on . the wide gray area called "uncertain risk. for example. contribute to miscarriages. we did not acquire this cerebral suit of armor until we reached the age of six months. nine times more organophosphate insecticides in their urine than children fed organic produce. Thus. alter the onset of puberty. Living Downstream. A 2003 study measured levels of these chemicals in the urine of pre-school children living in Seattle. When researching my book. will testify. on average. by design. are organic foods healthier for our kids? Here is where science yields to mother wisdom. consider that young children lack many of the biological defenses that protect adults against the toxic effects of pesticides. However. are poisons. disrupt hormonal signaling. We in the scientific community do not yet know what levels of pesticide exposure are sufficient to endanger the health of human adults. possess a blood-brain barrier." The reasons for our ignorance are many. Whatever we do or don't know about threshold levels for harm. as any mother Children fed organic food have lower residues of certain pesticides in their bodies than children fed conventionally grown food. children dine on fewer foods in proportionally higher quantities than their parents do.the market have never been adequately screened for their ability to cause cancer. (I do not routinely consume two bananas and two avocados a day. And yet. My 27-pound son does. or undermine fertility. It works quite well to keep neurological poisons from entering the gray matter of our brains.) Finally. and we know even less about their effects on children. The science shows that children fed organic produce have significantly lower pesticide residues in their bodies than children fed conventional produce. Pesticides. They are frequently used in fruit and vegetable farming. Even less thoroughly have we tested their ability to affect fetal brain growth. All of us grown-ups. Infants are thus far more susceptible to the brain-addling potential of insecticides and at much lower doses. ORGANOPHOSPHATE insecticides kill by attacking the nervous systems of insect pests. The science shows us that most organic produce is free from pesticide residues and most conventionally grown produce is not. I also learned that most human dietary studies of pesticide exposure presume adult eating habits. my intuition tells me that food with no poison is better for my children's developing minds and bodies than food with some.' So.

ironically. organic farming-like sobriety. which does such an admirable job at keeping bacteria and viruses out of the womb's watery habitat. Pesticides that are made up of smaller molecules are afforded free passage. bodies are the first environment. heavier molecules are partly broken down by the placenta's enzymes before they pass through. is illequipped to serve as a barrier to toxic chemicals. Katsi Cook. If a mother's body is contaminated. this transformation sometimes renders them even more toxic. so too is the ecosystem of a mother's body. and not smoking-makes good prenatal sense. so too is the child who inhabits it. In the meantime.'S WOMEN Organic agriculture is part of good prenatal care. It was a project that I began during the first month of my pregnancy with the real-life Faith and finally finished a week before I gave birth to her younger brother." We have much to learn about the reproductive effects of pesticides in use today. The placenta. They slip easily from the mother's bloodstream into the blood of the baby's umbilical cord. So says native American midwife. which explores the intimate ecology of pregnancy. Pesticides made of bigger. . seatbelts. But. This simple truth became the starting point of my book Having Faith. Those four years of research and writing can really be summed up in two simple sentences: If the world's environment is contaminated.

Illinois's cherry trees are perishing for the same reason. I was not entirely reassured. Neither had ever exceeded its legal maximum contaminant level. I wondered what effect this pesticide-laden air was having on the children who were breathing it. Looking out at my son stacking blocks on our back deck. the first five months of which were spent in downstate Illinois. I received a phone call from a reporter at my hometown newspaper. wind. Organic agriculture does not poison wells and reservoirs. After I hung up. They are detectable in fog.Organic agriculture protects air and water. While researching the drinking water data for . These limits were never set with human embryos and fetuses in mind. Pesticides do not adhere to the fields in which there are sprayed. in the place where I grew up. However. It is respectful of snow. He asked me the town in which I was living. LA S T year. It does not bring ruin to vineyards and orchards. I discovered that two herbicidesalachlor and atrazine-were routinely found in the tap water there. the wind itself now contains so much weed killer (2. a spring breeze ruffling the blond feathers of his hair. They fall in the rain.' In other words. They drift for miles in the wind. They follow storm run-off into gullies and streambeds. and rain-our life support system. They evaporate and rise into the jetstream. They insinuate themselves into the crystalline structures of snowflakes. to comment on the news that herbicide drift had now made it all but impossible to grow grapes commercially in central Illinois. I thought about my pregnancy with my daughter Faith.4-D) that grape leaves curl up and die. They descend through soil into groundwater. fog.

And so they vanished too-the wigeons and the gadwells. the river's lush vegetation vanished from the shallows. is an ecologically diminished place. They are all gone now. The seeds of these aquatic plants fed the river's dabbling ducks. Coon tail. poisoned by herbicide run-off. Wild celery. The diving ducks that depended on the clams for their food source soon followed. the riverbank near my home had . Poisoned by insecticide run-off. MY most beloved landscape. Canvasbacks. Sago. Then.Organic agriculture protects wildlife. By the time I was born in 1959. the river's fingernail clams disappeared in 1955. the Illinois River valley near Peoria. Scaups. Ring-necks.

I learned their calls by listening to instructional tapes. They do so by stimulating an enzyme that converts male hormone into female hormone. New studies identify pesticides as a leading suspect in the ongoing decline of North America's frog populations. I felt myself a natural historian of ghosts. the annual spring amphibian festival in our backyard. No more animal ghosts. Later in the season comes the loudspeaker JUG-O-RUM pronouncements of the bullfrog. male tadpoles metamorphose into hermaphroditic adults. Let frogs . are soon joined by the quieter ZZZIPPP . I want my grocery-buying keep us up all night. ZZZIPPP of the chorus frog. trace exposures to certain common weed killers emasculate male tadpoles. which signal the advent of spring more reliably than any bird song. Thus altered. I want the habits to help sustain songs of frogs to remain as familiar to my children as the lullabies we sing together. I learned to identify native Illinois ducks not by direct observation but by studying stuffed specimens in ornithology labs. The peepers' cries." Faith and I are sometimes kept awake April nights by the shrill EEP! EEP! of the spring peepers who inhabit the wetlands out behind our cabin. nitrates from synthetic fertilizers can trigger deformities in developing tadpoles or kill them outright-at their legal limits in drinking water.. whose call most closely resembles a finger drawn over the tines of a comb. For example. whose booming make Elijah jump and laugh out loud.' levels well below Similarly. Peepers are a cricket-sized species of tree frog with a piercingly loud method of finding suitable mates.become an eerily silent place..

grief. So do farmers' children? evidence suggests that exposure to pesticides on farms may be part Other studies have revealed possible links between agricultural use of pesticides and birth defects. Researchers found the largest risk among babies whose mothers lived within one mile of such areas during their first trimester of pregnancy. However. The price of cleaning up contaminated water. And here lies the economic sense of organic agricul ture. And organic farms tend to be smaller. Similar findings come from Iowa. Food that is grown organically often does cost more than . but they are reflected in our tax bills and insurance premiums. I feed my own family and." All dread. work toward the prevention of cancer and birth defects in rural America. care needs of farm families are just a few. For example. Organic farming practices require more labor. conventionally grown foods carry with them many indirect costs. as well as those born to families living in agricultural areas. By buying organic. here is how I make organic food more affordable for my family: instead of donating to the American Cancer Society or the March of Dimes. cancer and birth defects are expensive. Similarly. FARM E RS of the reason. have higher rates of certain cancers than the general An emerging body of population. according to a recent California study. As the demand for organic food rises. living near agricultural fields where pesticides are sprayed raises the risk of stillbirths due to birth defects. and human suffering aside.conventionally grown foods. the loss of wildlife. at the same time. These costs may not be incorporated in the price we pay in the grocery store. I fold my charitable giving into my grocery bill. and the increased health Organic agriculture promotes public health. prices at the cash register will fall. In the meantime. have elevated rates of birth defects. a Minnesota study found that the children of farmers. There are at least three reasons for this higher price tag. Organic foods are more strictly regulated.

On top of that hill is a flat. Organized on the principle of community supported agriculture (CSA). We are grateful to this farm. the farm atop our hill sells its produce directly to consumer-members who purchase a share of the season's harvest in early spring. . recharging our drinking water well and filling up our froggy swamp. as the snow and rain that falls on its fields eventually descend the slopes of Snyder Hill and seep into the hollow where we live. and eggs. Our home shares a watershed with this agricultural operation. Our farm. we are also joined economically. berries. wide expanse of good drainage and good views that is also the location of an organic vegetable farm. a long. As shareholders. In addition to this ecological link. steep rocky ridge that blocks the afternoon sun far sooner than I'd like during the too-short days of the too-long winters here. and labor. machinery. Jeff and I help pay for seeds. as Faith calls it. This investment is returned throughout the months that follow. in the form of a parade of fresh produce. RIS I N G just west of our cabin is Snyder Hill. herbs. also provides us flowers. honey. thereby guaranteeing the farmers' production expenses.7 Organic farms promote community.

My four-year-old knows how to pick green beans. Among its hundred or so members. including two of our own. When a summer cloudburst cut short a family expedition last July. Some of the crops are picked and packed for us.Once a week we gather in the barn to collect our share. my daughter said cheerily." . I found myself dancing with my sweetheart while a bluegrass band played in the barnyard and a yellow moon rose over the fields. And I see them coming to understand the relationship between those who eat food and those who grow it. I thought back to that household budget of ours. Some lie out in the fields for us to harvest ourselves. recipes are exchanged along with child care. They both know the joy of fresh raw sugar peas. "organic agriculture saves us a bundle on entertainment. Around us. "And another thing. Last summer. at another late-summer farm feast. "Our carrots are drinking now. Along with the food has come other intangible benefits. a stream of sticky-mouthed children. Monthly potluck dinners are organized. She knows about how many potatoes make a pound. ran and scattered in the tall grass." I imagined telling our financial advisor. some fathers got together and constructed a children's play area out by the bean fields." And our farm provides us a sense of community. My one-year-old can recognize a tomato vine at twenty paces. with offerings so dependably delicious that I insisted on attending one of them when Elijah was only three days old. between the dinner on the table and the land from which the dinner comes. A year later.

leukemias.M. 2002. 3. Pesticides and 136( 1992). farmers include blood and nervous Cancers found in excess among their children include brain cancers. 2000).S. R G. Bell et al. spina bifida. 40-42." American Journal oj Industrial Medicine 20 (1991). Gupta. and germ cell tumors. CL and Suburban Pre-school Children Residues in Conventional." American Journal oj Industrial Medicine 43 Exposures and Risk 227-33.. pp." Food Additives and Contaminants 2.. 257-78.. Insecticides. Chemistry 18(1999) 7. "Sensitivity from the Pacific Northwest. heart malformations. Baker et al. "Parental Occupational Cancer. and hypospadias." in B. undescended testicles.. to Nitrate and Nitrite in Pond-Breeding USA. April 30. O'Leary et al. Biocidcs. and Birth Defects in Rural Minnesota. Pesticide Exposures of Urban Diets. Physicians for Social Responsibility. LM." Epidemiology 12(2001) "Pesticide Appliers.Sources 1 B. "National Farmers and Pesticide (2003). Solomon Human Health.. A Marco et al. Birth defects associated with pesticide lip and palate." American Journal oj Epidemiology exposure include cleft et al. 959. LE. Ewing's sarcoma. and Childhood Cancers. VF Garry et al." Environmental Health Perspectives 104(1996)." Daniels Environmental Health Perspectives 105(1997) Due to Congenital 8. See also G. Tarter. R Munger et al. "A Case-Control Anomalies. pp. Feminization of Male Frogs in the Wild. Placental Drift. 2836-39. "Birth Defects and Pesticide-Contaminated Water Supplies in Iowa. ed. Foods. A Review. Wilms' tumor. of Childhood 17-35. JL Health Interview Survey Mortality Among US Applicators. found in excess among U." 895-96. T Hayes et al. "Pesticide Management (lPM)-grown Sets. E.V Rama Sastry... 4.P. and Conventional Environmental Health Perspectives 111(2003). . "Grapes Struggle in Illinois Due to Chemical Peoria Journal Star. 394-99. Toxicology (Boca Raton Overspray. "Environmental Anticholinesterases and Other Agents and Placental Toxicity. limb defects. "Organophosphorus with Organic 377-82.. Fleming et al. hydocephaly. Cancers system cancers. Insights 427-446. A ResourceJor Health Care ProJessionals (San Francisco. "Herbicides.. S. Nature 419(2002) Amphibians 6. "Pesticides 1068-77.." Integrated Pest and Organic from Three US Data 19(2002) Curl et al. 1995).. et al." CRC Press. Study of Pesticides and Fetal Death 148-156." Environmental Toxicology and 5.

organicvalley.On-line Resources Birth Defect Research for Children. gardens. and schools.com Organic Valley Website Learn more about the farmers and organic products of the Organic Valley cooperative. www. .beyondpesticides.panna. www.ota. a research program that studies associations between birth defects and environmental contaminants.csacenter.org Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides Learn more about the hazards of pesticides and their alternatives.org Robin Van En Center for CSA Resources Learn more about community supported agriculture and locate a CSA in your area. Learn more about the National Birth Defects Registry.org Beyond Pesticides Learn more about alternatives to pesticides in homes.org agriculture.com Pesticide Action Network Learn more about worldwide efforts to advance alternatives to pesticides. Inc.pesticide. www. www. www.org Organic Trade Association Learn more about the economics of organic and conventional www.birthdefects. www.

.Sandra Steingraber..~'" +t '" 01\GA'NI. Her two books." with Bill Moyers Organic Valley Family of Farms™ is a cooperative owned by hundreds of organic farm families joined across America. Living Downstream: Looks at Cancer and the Environment An Ecologist and Having from which portions of this essay are adapted. _"." .. we are proud to provide your family with farm-fresh dairy. she is the 2001 recipient of the Rachel Carson Leadership Award from Carson's alma mater.. "Now.•• l t .. '. author.e t\. lit'· .D. New York. hormones or antibiotics. Her research on children's environmental health was recently featured on the PBS show. •. Using nature as our teacher. numerous awards for science writing. Chatham College.. 50% ' ~':".' ': . have received Faith: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood. with vegetable-ail-based inks. eggs and produce without the use of pesticides. We are earth-stewards honoring the interdependency of all of living things. Photographs by Carrie Branovan © Pn'nted on paper made from 2003 recycled fiber. ~-: :U. and cancer survivor. Biologist. Ph.. lives with her husband and children in Ithaca. juice.~ _.

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