News and Notes from The Johnson Center

Organic Foods

JCCHD | Fri, May 16, 2014 | [Family and Food][Healthcare]

In 1996, Pauline Stiles’ daughter was diagnosed with autism.  Her doctor suggested taking all food additives out of her diet.  A seemingly easy task quickly turned into a challenging endeavor.  Many foods marketed to children have everything from MSG to artificial colors and flavors.  Pauline decided not to be a thwarted by this part of the food industry and became the founder of Pure Organics.  Thanks to people like her, it is easier to feed our children all-natural, organic food.  But what does organic really mean and how does a product become certified?   

Defining Organic

Organic can be defined by the requirements set by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) for specific topics: produce, products, processing, or agriculture.  Generally, organic products have been produced without any synthetic chemicals.  In addition to chemicals, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used. 

There are some exceptions to the rule.

• Small farmers who make less than $5,000/year do not have to comply with federal standards.
• Products can use the term “organic” on the primary label if it is made up of at least 50% organic ingredients (excluding water and salt).
• Livestock can be labeled “organic” if it has been 3 years since the land on which they graze has been treated with synthetic chemicals.


The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has accredited over 80 agencies to certify and verify that the NOCB’s standards are being upheld.  Click here for the full list.  To become certified, a producer must submit a detailed description of operations, a history of substances applied to the land within the last 3 years, and a written Organic System Plan to one of the accrediting agencies.  The producer will follow their approved Organic System Plan to ensure that products are grown, raised, and/or processed organically.  To issue recertification, accrediting agencies will conduct annual audits.  In the Unites States, there are over 30,000 on-site inspections per year to protect the integrity of the “organic” label.

Be confident about your organic purchases.  Always look for the USDA Organic seal.  Any food item with the seal is guaranteed to be made up of at least 95% organic content. 

Grow Your Own Organic Food

To build your confidence as a gardener, cherry tomatoes are a great plant to start with because they are easy to grow.  And one plant will bear plenty of tomatoes that will give you bragging rights for your next potluck. 

You’ll need:
• 1 organic cherry tomato plant (go to a local nursery or farmer’s market to find one)
• 1 large tomato cage (unnecessary if you have a balcony or railing that the vines can climb)
• 1 20-quart bag of organic potting soil
• 1 bottle or bag of organic tomato food (or organic, all-purpose plant food)
• 1 5-gallon plastic bucket (with or without drainage holes)

1. If your bucket doesn’t have drainage holes, drill ¼ to ½ inch holes every few inches into the bottom. 
2. Pick a location where the plant will get at least 8 hours of sunlight a day.
3. Insert the tomato cage pointy end down into the planter and fill with potting soil about ¾  full.
4. Water the soil until it is evenly moist.  Add more soil until ½ inch below the rim.  Make sure the soil is leveled.
5. In the center, dig a hole deep enough to cover your plant to the top 4 to 6 leaves.  Gently remove your plant from its pot and insert it in the hole.  Cover the plant so only the top 4 to 6 leaves are showing.
6. Water your plant every 2 to 3 days to keep the soil moist.  In dry weather, everyday watering may be needed.
When the branches start poking through the cage, gently push them back through so they’re supported.  After a month your plant will start flowering.  A few weeks more, and the flowers will turn into delicious cherry tomatoes. 

Below is a simple summertime recipe.

Cucumber Tomato Salad
The Autism Cookbook: 101 Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Recipes

• 5 cherry tomatoes cut into quarters
• 1 large cucumber
• 1 cup freshly chopped dill
• 1 large lemon, juiced
• 1 Tbsp. agave nectar
• ¼ tsp. salt

Directions: In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and stir.  Cover and refrigerate until serving. 

  • References
    1. Leahy P. The organic standards protection act of 1990. [Organic Certification]. 1990;H.R 2400(1):2105-2106
    2. Delaine SK. The Autism Cookbook: 101 Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Recipes. New York, NY: Skyhorse Pub; 2010.