Written by Virginia Salisbury

The benefits of going organic

By Victoria Salisbury

Nola babies are going green in big numbers. Parents are increasingly choosing organic over conventional alternatives for their children. But why do moms find organic a better choice, what are they saying, and what new organic products will soon be on the shelves?

“One of the most important things I am interested in eliminating is preservatives,” says Vesta Fort, mother of Abigail, six, and Arthur, four. The mom, who lives in Uptown and shops every Tuesday at the Crescent City Farmer’s Market, explains, “I am wary of anything that is not canned that has a shelf life of over a couple of months.”

Organic’s ginormous growth

This search for natural, less-preserved products is reflected in the staggering numbers given by the Organic Trade Organization. In 2005, sales of organic baby formula and infant clothing totaled $52 million, and organic baby food sales totaled nearly $235 million last year. Apparently green babies equal big green bucks, and this growing profit margin is translating into greater choices in organics available to consumers.

Nanette Schoenewe observes this reality at her Columbia Street Natural Foods Market in Covington. “There are definitely more [organic] products available now.” Her shop carries Earth’s Best line of baby foods, California Baby’s body products, and Seventh Generation diapers. In her experience, organic baby products are particularly popular because, “Moms who don’t eat organic themselves still want to make sure their baby gets organic food.”

Tara McLellan of Slidell echoes this sentiment. “Because we are on a budget, I mainly stick to organic baby food items,” she says.

Most parents seem to take a middle ground, choosing to purchase just a selection of organic baby food, produce, or organic milk. This is a path of moderation that Dr. Aaron Thompson, the Vice Chairman of Pediatrics at West Jefferson Medical Center, says his own family follows. He “loves the organic milk from the farmer’s market, mostly because it just tastes better,” but he cannot emphasize enough “the basic importance of a well-balanced diet. The next step can be to choose organic.”

So they are what they eat

Dr. Thompson points out that studies comparing diets confirm more pesticides do make it into the bodies of children who eat conventional diets, but adds, “we are not sure what the long-term effects of those pesticides might be. I certainly think people are looking at the pesticides, and moving to limit them in the future.”

The pediatrician also understands that many families simply cannot afford organic products—often estimated to be 30 percent pricier than their conventional counterparts. Dr. Thompson recommends reducing exposure to pesticides by peeling and scrubbing produce. It’s also helpful to know which crops are more likely to be heavily sprayed by growers. Peaches, strawberries, apples, spinach, nectarines, celery, pears, cherries, potatoes, sweet bell peppers, raspberries and grapes are routinely listed as the “dirty dozen” in terms of pesticide residue, so make sure to wash them carefully—or choose an organic version when possible.

Not your mama’s organic

For those who do go the organic route, Whole Foods Market is a popular stop for New Orleans residents. In addition to brand favorites such as Earth’s Best, California Baby and Baby’s Only Organic, Whole Foods now carries Happy Baby and Plum Organics, both of which reflect a trend away from the jar and toward the freezer.

Happy Baby is the only organic baby food fortified with DHA, an essential fatty acid for brain and eye development. Shazi Visram, founder of Happy Baby, says freezing is a healthier alternative to the high heat required for jarred baby foods. “Freezing is nature’s best preservative. Once thawed, it is ready to eat, and it’s just like homemade.”

Also jumping into the freezer aisle is Earth’s Best’s new toddler foods. Organic frozen pizza, ravioli and mini-frozen waffles successfully pair convenience with health—two words mothers don’t often hear in the same sentence.

Bamboo what??

Whole Foods also now carries organic cotton onesies from Under the Nile, and T-shirt sets from Green Babies Clothing. Finally, if you worry about the time it takes for those pampers to disappear from the landfill, you might like G Diapers, the new biodegradable diaper-insert that you flush down the toilet.

The flood of demand for organic has now spilled into more traditional stores, such as The Gap which has organic infant clothing for sale on its website, and Target with basics like organic Gerber baby food, and organic Similac infant formula. Babies R Us has become a surprisingly good resource, offering a wide variety of organic products from bibs to infant clothing to sleep sacks. There you can find the organic cotton Serta mattress and organic bedding sets from Nature’s Purest Hug Me.

New Orleans boutiques carry specialized organics like Erbaviva body products at Belladonna, bamboo baby clothes at Little Miss Muffin, and the organic cotton Moby Wrap at Mollycoddlle, Pippen Lane, and The Baby Shop. Moby Wrap’s marketing director Simone Sprague says they searched for a long time for less expensive organic cotton. “We’ve always wanted to have Moby Wraps available at the most reasonable cost so that anybody who really wanted to ‘wear’ their baby could.”

The final stop for all things natural is the Crescent City Farmer’s Market where organic is economically feasible for any budget, as food stamps are exchanged for tokens. To find other Louisiana goods, check out Local Harvest at local harvest.org. Here, Louisiana’s farmers offer everything from organic blueberries to pasture-fed beef. With all these options, and more arriving everyday, in the near future going organic might be as easy as sliced stoneground

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