by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I garden, first because I love doing it and then second, because it's the most certain and cost-effective way to know there are no chemicals in the food we eat. But my high-desert climate - short hot dry summers, long freezing cold winters, 10 inches average annual precipitation (as snow only) - means growing my own food is an iffy proposition at best.
So I grow when and what I can, preserve or store any extra, and then buy the rest of my produce. Sadly, organic produce here is usually way more expensive - that is, when it's available at all. When grocery money is tight, I'll buy organic for the "Dirty Dozen", and shop for regular produce if it has a thick non-edible skin or peel, or is one of the "Clean 15."
Apples, celery, and strawberries top the list of the most pesticide-laden produce. Earlier this year, I wrote about my trials in growing and preserving cilantro. I now feel my efforts justified. In researching the latest list of contaminated food, I found cilantro has the highest percentage of unapproved pesticides recorded on any item included in the Shopper's Guide since the Environmental Working Group started tracking the data in 1995.
2011 "Dirty Dozen" (buy these organic, or try to grow your own)
8. Sweet bell peppers
12. Kale/collard greens
Food prices are definitely on the rise. If price is an obstacle, buying these from the regular bins can cut costs without compromising on quality.
2011 "Clean 15" (least contaminated)
2. Sweet corn
6. Sweet peas
13. Sweet potatoes
Still, the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. Reduce your exposure as much as possible, but eating conventionally-grown produce is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all. Download a pdf of the above lists here. Then, do what you can, when you can.