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Blueberries to Bok Choy: An Organic Farmer Reveals His Food Passions

by Herb Gardener.

Research has demonstrated that blueberries boost the immune system and fight free radicals. It took Southwest Florida farmer and organic produce entrepreneur Mitch Blumenthal to discover the fruit also has a salutary effect on dreams.

“My passion for organic farming developed first as a landowner who didn’t want to use caustic chemicals on his property,“ Blumenthal says. “When we bought our first home in 1990 I had realized the American Dream. How could I consider polluting it? I also felt that our landscaping should be edible. Why not eat off our little plot?”

Five years later the Blumenthal family sought several acres for building a dream home. After a frustrating search, Blumenthal’s wife Colleen found a strong candidate. She saw a for-sale sign on a dirt road and came upon 10 acres with 5,000 certified organic blueberry plants in the ground. After completing a harvest with the Mennonite owners of the blueberry farm, the Blumenthals knew this is what they wanted to do.

Blumenberry Farm’s success subsequently proved to Mitch and Colleen Blumenthal that demand exists for an organic supply company. Today, Blumenthal owns and operates Global Organic Specialty Source, Inc., which distributes wholesale organic fruits and vegetables across the southeastern U.S. The business supports 160 farms in 21 countries. They have contacts with every continent except Antarctica.

When considering buying from places such as Blumenthal’s enterprise, what should informed consumers know about organic labeling and certification?

“The first thing to look for is the USDA organic logo,” says the expert. “With this seal, the consumer is assured that 95% of the product’s ingredients are made/grown using certified organic methods approved by the National Organic Program of the United States. All inspections are conducted by third parties who verify standards are met. As long as the seal is present, a consumer can have complete confidence.”

Beyond educating and supplying homeowners, Blumenthal is upbeat in describing the impact of celebrity chefs on the organic produce market.

“People are totally hooked on the Food Channel and cooking shows,” observes Blumenthal. “This is a great way for people to see the produce, appreciate the color and quality, to hear about the taste and, in some cases, to see the farm where it was sourced. Branding is important, and it is great to have a celebrity chef support the return to organics.”

What about trends in organic farming? Blumenthal feels it will be interesting to see if varieties of produce popular with Latino consumers start showing up in the organic marketplace. He believes there is a viable Hispanic customer base but it is difficult to source.

“We also watch the local movements pretty closely,” says Blumenthal. “We are in favor of small family farms but are firmly committed to organics. We want to make sure that people who go to their farmer’s market know what to ask of the farmer and are sure the product is being grown locally and hopefully, if not certified, at least moving in that direction. People tend to assume local is better but sometimes the miles food travels from Georgia to Florida has less impact than the pesticides and resulting runoff or degradation of the surrounding wildlife that come from a local conventional farmer. The trend we love is backed by the First Lady – bringing healthy lunches to schools! We cannot let childhood diabetes and obesity be the future of our children.” As to the most satisfying part of his job, Blumenthal is unequivocal. “I am sourcing and getting life-giving foods into as many mouths as possible. We do this through retail outlets, buying clubs, food banks and our own employees.”

But, customer preference often comes down to affordability. How can organic endeavors such as Blumenthal’s compete? “The more people ‘vote with their fork’ the more power we have as citizens in trying to reform our food system,” believes Blumenthal. “When people chose organic produce, they are putting healthy food in their bodies, but they are also protecting biodiversity, soil enrichment and water quality.”

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Try Colleen Blumenthal’s recipe for Bok Choy Salad and you may think your tastebuds are dreaming, too.

(Adapted from Matt Amsden’s RAWvolution)

4-5 heads organic baby bok choy

1/3 cup olive oil

¼ cup Nama Shoya (raw soy sauce)

3 large garlic cloves

Chop the bok choy stalks into ½-inch pieces. In blender, combine other ingredients. Mix with the bok choy and serve. Yes, it’s really that easy!

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