It's getting easier to go organic

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Bales of hay, donated by members of the community, are used to grow produce atop the Sontes rooftop garden. Produce includes tomatoes, a variety of herbs, peppers and squash.

Shopping for organic food could be tough, even as recently as just a few years ago.

But times have changed.

Today organic produce is much easier to find.

You can get it at grocery stores, farmers markets and even served on a plate of your favorite food at a local restaurant.

At Hy-Vee, for just one example, you can find Bushel Boy tomatoes from Owatonna ; organic boneless, skinless chicken breasts from Nebraska; grass-fed beef and uncured hot dogs from Cannon Falls ; and local eggs from St. Charles .


Scott Weaver, who buys produce for People's Food Co-op in Rochester, said last week that he had organic watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew on hand.

The melons are not locally grown this time of year.

But that actually shows how much the organic-foods market has changed. Years ago, there would be gaps of time without certain types of organic produce, such as grapes. But these days, organic grapes are available all year, Weaver said.

Locally grown produce that's available at People's already includes one of Weaver's favorites for this time of year — sugar-snap and snow peas. There's also red and green kale, mustard greens and other green, leafy vegetables.

Tessa Leung, owner of Rochester's Sontes Restaurant, said local diners can find plenty of organic produce right in their local eateries.

"Everything we have in the restaurant is local at this point," Leung said. When Sontes opened seven years ago, "we had a really hard time … trying to get local, grass-fed beef," she said. Back then, she also could not get grass-fed lamb.

Today, Leung said, "we get amazing duck eggs." Local cheese, too, is starting to become available.

"Now we really get to show off southern Minnesota," Leung said. "I grew up here, so I think it's just a great bragging point. We are doing farm-to-table, and local."


Leung sees other cities highlight the availability of organic foods.

"We should brag just a little bit ourselves," she said.

Weaver, of People's, said growers of organic foods must meet U.S. Department of Agriculture criteria in order for their produce to be certified as organic.

According to the USDA , organic food can not be genetically engineered, must be free of ionizing radiation and sewage, and cannot have been exposed to synthetic chemicals, such as insecticides and pesticides.

"More people are looking for organic foods," Weaver said.

Years ago, the quality of organically grown produce was not as high as it is today, he said. But today, the quality of organics is just as good as that of other produce.

If you want organic foods, Weaver said, you will be able to find it.

"I can't think of anything we can't get organically that comes in as a conventional produce," he said.


Leung said there are even locally grown mushrooms available now.

Steven Schwen, of Earthen Path, Heartbeat and Easy Oak gardens, said availability of organically grown produce can be very seasonal.

"We start planing in the wintertime, actually, and continue planting up until the ground freezes in the fall," he said. He feels the most beautiful time for his family's Rochester Downtown Farmers Market stand is when the heirloom tomatoes are available.

He sells food to local restaurants like Nosh in Lake City .

Growers have been trying since the 1970s to get organic food to catch on, and now it has, Schwen said.

"We're so busy growing stuff," he said.

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Tessa Leung, owner of Sontes, tends to her rooftop garden atop her downtown establishment. Produce includes tomatoes, a variety of herbs, peppers and squash. Also pictured are her husband, Nelson Leung, and her niece and nephew, Kaitlyn and Colin Leung, of San Jose, CA.

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