Thursday, April 2, 2009

Wild Harvest Organic Spinach: The Long Road Traveled

It's not just junk food packaging that needs deciphering.

I recently bought some frozen spinach to make a spinach pie. (It’s easier than you think.)
To avoid pesticides, I settled on Wild Harvest Organic cut leaf spinach, the cheapest of the available organic varieties. The bag stated that the spinach was not from “genetically engineered crops” and it was “grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides.”

However, when I got home and started to open the bag, I realized I had missed other information:

  • The spinach was certified organic by the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
  • Wild Harvest is a subsidiary of Minnesota-based food giant Supervalu.
  • The spinach was labeled “Product of China.”
Holy disconcerting geographical issues, Batman!

I called Supervalu to make sense of the Washington-Minnesota-China connection. Unfortunately, the woman I spoke with had no information, but she said she would have the spinach supplier contact me in the next two or three business days.

A month (and two more phone calls by me) later, John O’Grady of Twin City Foods of Stanwood, WA finally contacted me.

According to O’Grady, Twin City Foods—an independent frozen vegetable processor—supplies Wild Harvest with the organic spinach, all of it grown in China. However, Twin City is just a middle man, as it purchases the spinach from yet another supplier.

O’Grady said the spinach’s organic status is authenticated by OCIA International (Organic Crop Improvement Association), an organization that certifies foreign growers and processors. Twin City receives a validating certificate from OCIA.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture’s role is to certify the organic status of Twin City’s processing plants, three of which are in Washington.

Wouldn’t it be easier to buy organic spinach from California?

“There’s nobody in California growing enough,” O’Grady said. “We’re trying to find a domestic source.”

It’s amazing what you can learn from a little reading, a couple phone calls and some persistence.

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