Why I No Longer Pay Much Attention to EWG's Dirty Dozen™

Last Saturday my entire family was out and about doing errands in an unfamiliar part of town when we passed a farmers market. We made a note of it and on the way home stopped there for lunch and groceries. We were so glad we did.

This market was much larger than the farmers markets closer to my home that I usually frequent. While it was tougher to keep track of my kids (I was very glad my husband was with me), there was plenty to love among the aisles and aisles of vendors. In addition to tons of beautiful produce, there was honey and freshly squeezed juices, tamales and hummus, natural meats and fresh fish, flowers and potted plants, bread and pastries. There were eggs, $6 for 30 ($2.40 a dozen, about half of what I normally pay). I bought 60. When we passed a musician playing a James Taylor-esque version of "Up on the Roof," one of my 5yo's favorite songs, my son looked at me and immediately put his hand out for a dollar to put in the hat. It was like we were meant to be there.

Most important of all, there were tomatoes. Ripe, red, and juicy. Despite the high price tag, I bought more than a pound each of tomatoes still on the vine as well as uber-sweet cherry tomatoes. My husband looked at my purchase and said, "What are you thinking? Go back and buy at least two more pounds of those cherry tomatoes." The kids and we ate almost all those cherry tomatoes walking through the stalls of the market. Our first fresh tomatoes of the season.

A few days later when The 2013 Dirty Dozen™ came out, I realized how much less attention I pay to it now than when I first started going green. I mean, I still pay attention because it's news (which is why I wrote a post about it last week). But I no longer print up the list and stick it on the fridge, or type the complete list into Excel and then print it out in a tiny font so that I can carry the list with me at all times in my wallet. I no longer agonize over whether I should substitute Clean Fifteen™ produce from distant lands for local Dirty Dozen™ produce while standing in the grocery store with a cart full of small children. And that's because I now shop for almost all my produce through my farmers market and my CSA, which allows me to purchase nearly all of our fruits and vegetables pesticide-free. And for that, I feel very lucky.

How to Shop Local, in Season, and Pesticide-free without Even Trying

As I've said before, farmers markets take all the calculation and effort out of shopping local and in season. Much of the time, they also take all the effort out of shopping pesticide- and GMO-free. Farmers markets are often the most affordable way to buy pesticide-free produce.

Not everything at farmers markets is organic. But many of the non-organic vendors don't use fertilizers and/or pesticides. Just ask! I regularly buy from many vendors who are working on organic certification (it takes many years) or small family farms that are organic in all but name but just don't want to invest the money in the certification process. If the person manning the booth is part of the family that owns the farm, or has worked on the farm for many years and is very familiar with their operation, and I am standing there with a child in each hand and a baby strapped to my chest, I am willing to take the vendor's word for it when he tells me, "We don't use pesticides."

Find your local farmers market here.

How often do you consult EWG's Dirty Dozen™ list?

Related Posts

EWG's 2013 Dirty Dozen List
Getting the Most Out of Your Farmer’s Market
My Love Affair with the Farmers' Market
How I Shop for Food


  1. ugh, you know what's sad? is that for some reason, our farmer's market it costs us at least 50% MORE to shop there. We just can't afford to do all our shopping for all our groceries at the market (we tried, it was a scary few months in bills).

    However- I agree wholeheartedly with your post and reasoning- and believe that in a regular city with a normal farmer's market, the cost should be the same or cheaper :) so i am glad (if not a little jealous) for you!

    1. My sister in Portland says her farmers market is definitely not the cheapest, but widely acknowledged to have the best quality. In general, however, I think everyone should check out at least a couple of farmers markets in their area if possible, b/c I think most farmers markets have excellent deals -- you are cutting out the middle man, after all. If farmers markets are pricey in your area, look into your CSA options, which you can also find through localharvest.org.

  2. Great post and certainly one that gets you thinking. I believe knowing our farmers through CSAs and farmers markets is the best way to get our food. I have learned a lot about farming techniques and such through them that I might not otherwise have known and it is a great experience for the kids.

    Honestly, I rarely consult the Dirty Dozen except I always make sure to buy organic apples throughout the year. They are a staple and one that I believe in the organic choice.

  3. What a great observation. I think I'm much like you at this point and rarely refer to EWG's list. In no way am I minimizing the value of the list and I will continue to share it with my readers.I try to buy as much as I can organic and during our short farmer's market season I can't think of a better way to support local agriculture and healthy choices for my family. An interesting question came up this year-what about GMOs? They're not taken into account on EWG's list. Hopefully in years to come they will be.

  4. You make such an important point! Buying local is one of the best ways to support the local economy and sustainable agriculture while cutting down on the global warming ramifications resulting from our traditional food system. I consult the EWG list regularly, but I also support my local CSA and farmer's markets as well as my own garden come warm weather time. Also, to clarify what Lori noted about GMOs, EWG did actually address them in their executive summary this year: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php

  5. I don't pay attention to the list when I'm at the farmers market either. Only when I shop at the supermarket. Great post!

  6. I credit the farmers market with getting me out of the supermarket. I go there so rarely now (even the "healthier" ones like Trader Joes and Whole Foods) and am really so much happier about it.

  7. I do not think of myself as a distrustful person, but how do I know that merely asking the farmer in a market will get me the truth? I know that organic certification is time-consuming and expensive, and many sources are using no or fewer pesticides and herbicides. However, I could get the answer that will guarantee the farmer a sale, and I would not be any the wiser.

    1. Well, it's definitely a personal choice. I just feel like it would be tough to lie to a family you are going to have to face every week. In Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan wrote that many small farms don't use pesticides and fertilizers b/c they are just too expensive and really not economical on that scale -- products really designed for agribusiness. I've also had many farmers/ workers tell me that they DO spray. Or we use fertilizers, but not pesticides. Or we spray the kiwi but not the citrus. Or, I don't know about that one. I'll check and get back to you. Or I can't say about those oranges b/c actually we get those from a different farm and don't grown them on the farm where I work. If I feel like the person answering seems uncertain or not forthright, I might go elsewhere. I do buy the majority of my produce from certified organic farms.


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