It’s the height of the “green” or rainy season, and a great time to green up your diet with organic produce.
Fresh, chemical-free produce is available throughout much of the country at local farmers markets, supermarkets, specialized organic markets and even through a dedicated website – and just in time.
Agrochemicals are most heavily used during the rainy season for fungi and other pests that proliferate in damp weather when plants struggle to get enough sun, said Jorge Mora of the Agriculture and Livestock Ministry’s phytosanitary service (a fancy name for plant quality control).
Since 2007, the State Phytosanitary Service (SFE) and the environment and health ministries have registered 370 active chemicals used in 2,200 agrochemical formulas applied on farms throughout the country. And though residues on fruits and vegetables have never been lower, according to SFE’s Luis Matarrita, whose team measures residue levels in produce and teaches farmers best practices for chemical use, there are many reasons to go organic.
Better taste tops the list for many organic shoppers, but environmental concerns shouldn’t be minimized, as agrochemicals can readily enter groundwater and the food chain. A June incident highlighted the potential health dangers when runoff from an agrochemical fire at a Dole Standard Fruit Company storage facility in the Caribbean-slope town of Matina caused a mass fish kill in a nearby river.
Farmers markets, a concept brought to fruition by former President Rodrigo Carazo in 1979 to support local agriculture and increase the country’s food autonomy, offer the greatest variety of organic produce.
Exclusively organic farmers markets in San José are held Saturday mornings at El Trueque at Paso Ancho and at the Feria Verde in Barrio Aranjuez (TT, July 2). In the western suburb of Escazú Centro, a very popular organic market across from the Red Cross is held Wednesdays at 8 a.m. (TT, May 30, 2008). Heading northwest, Grecia has a market the first Sunday of each month at Finca San Luis. In the northwestern province of Guanacaste, check out the Saturday market at Casa del Sol in Santa Bárbara and the daily Mercado Ecológico in El Guayabo, Nicoya. A wholesale organic distributor is also open daily a kilometer north of the Tapesco Church in the mountain town of Zarcero, in north-central Costa Rica.
According to the Costa Rican Organic Agriculture Movement (MAOCO), certified organic produce is offered by several different vendors at Saturday farmers markets in the western Central Valley city of San Ramón; in Coronado, northeast of San José; in Pérez Zeledón in the Southern Zone; Upala in the northern region; Pavas in western San José; the Caribbean-slope towns of Guápiles and Turrialba; and Paraíso de Cartago, east of the capital. For more information about times and locations of these markets, see www.agriculturaorganica.org or contact MAOCO’s office at 2227-4386.
Two rules of thumb for shopping at a feria del agricultor: Go early and bring plenty of change. Most farmers markets open early in the morning and wind down between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. At some, you can place orders in advance.
The Agriculture and Livestock Ministry (MAG) has two inspectors who oversee the roughly 120 certified organic businesses in Costa Rica. These range from individual farms, groups of farms and processing plants to organic retailers and wholesalers. Most of these are certified by Eco-LOGICA, a national pioneer in certifying organic businesses. The three other certifiers currently accredited by MAG include Germany-based BCS Oko-Garantie, Guatemala-based Mayacert, and the international Control Union. A 2000 executive decree officially legislated the organic certifying process and requires businesses to renew each year. Costs to certify vary widely, starting at approximately $400 for a small farm. A farm is not deemed organic until it has employed organic procedures for three full years, and Costa Rica is one of three countries outside the European Union whose organic standards are recognized by the EU, said Juan Rojas, a MAG organic certification program inspector.
Más x Menos, Hipermás and Auto Mercado supermarkets offer certified organic produce, and they deliver to homes and businesses within a certain radius. Another delivery option throughout much of the greater San José metropolitan area is www.naturastyle.com, an online clearinghouse for organic products ranging from fruits and veggies to meats, wine and compost.
Specialized organic stores in the San José area include Bio Productos Oro Verde in the northeastern suburb of Moravia (2235 7811), the newly opened Natura Mercado Orgánico in Trejos Montealegre de Escazú (2228-2692, open daily) and Comercio AlterNativo (2228-8803) near Multiplaza in Guachipelín de Escazú.
The Costa Rican Green Pages, www.paginasverdescr.com, lists organic vendors from around the country; look under “alimentación” and then under “productos orgánicos frescos” for a listing of dozens of stores that specialize in organic products. If you still don’t find something nearby, ask your closest macrobiótica store about local organic farmers or about placing a special order.n
¡Buen provecho! Hope you enjoy your delicious and fresh organic food.