What does “minimally treated” mean?

Q: Member Naomi writes: I have been wondering what the coop means when we say that produce is "minimally treated." Maybe this is something you could write about on the blog? I would like to support farmers who are transitioning to organic or are basically growing organically but don't have certification. But I have no idea if this is what I'm doing when I buy minimally treated produce.

A: The question of "minimally treated" vs. "organic" is a good one. As of the year 2000, foods labeled organic must comply with a complex set of regulations developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Obtaining organic certification is a lengthy and costly process for farmers. In contrast, the minimally treated produce that the coop sells is guaranteed only by the good word of Amy Hepworth, a New York State farmer with whom the coop has a 30-year relationship. Some explanation of the standards for minimally treated are given in the excerpts below, with links to the full articles.

[T]he fruit from Hepworth Farms carries a slightly vague title: Minimally Treated. … Many growers farm organically but cannot label their produce as such without certification. In light of this restriction, Coop General Manager Joe Holtz and [farmer] Amy Hepworth struggled to find a term that would adequately represent her ecologically sustainable growing practice in the Hudson Valley, settling on ”minimally treated.”

- Read the rest of the article above on page 6 of the 1/31/o8 Linewaiters' Gazette.
- Part II in the 3/13/08 Linewaiters' Gazette
- Part III in the 3/27/08 Linewaiters' Gazette

[F]ruit purchased in the Northeast, ... is typically not organic but “minimally treated,” a term ... that denotes fruits grown with the least non-organic pesticides possible, which can range from nearly none (in dry season) to as high as 5% of the amount of what conventional agriculture deploys.

“If you are an organic-fruit eater,” [produce buyer Allen] Zimmerman says, “you are mostly getting fruit from the West Coast, like the Washington State orchards. They are located in deserts.” … Even with the best growing practices, that creates a considerable strain on water resources.

Most growers also pull out the certified organic heavy hitters, like sulfur and copper, which are residual and build up in the soil over time. ... “There is no question,” Hepworth says, “that there is more residue on an organic apple than ours.”

- Read the rest of the article above on page 3 of the 9/27/07 Linewaiters' Gazette.