You walk into the produce aisle at the local grocery store in the middle of winter.

Broccoli is no longer green, lettuce is wilted and soft, fruit is bruised and battered, and there’s a general lack of selection. The produce is tired and lacking warmth . . .

Wait a minute, that’s how I feel in the winter!

It’s easy enough in the summer to grow a garden, or hit the farmers market for fresh goods to give you that vital food energy, but what should we do in the off seasons?

The following information will help you decide what produce to buy when the grocery store produce is looking drab.

Buying Organic

In Whitehorse you cannot always get the organic produce you want. Having said that, I enjoy the President’s Choice Organics line, and it’s fairly reasonable in price.

If you do have to buy conventionally-grown produce, it should be washed, soaked and peeled. Washing needs to be done before cutting to prevent the knife from spreading any surface contaminants.

Here’s a recipe for a home-made vegetable wash that will help remove wax and other toxins: http://glutenfreehomemaker.com/2009/09/fruit-vegetable-wash-recipe/.

Washing non-organic produce will remove some, but not all, toxins.

Buying organic means you are not buying: genetically modified food, food radiated with chemicals, synthetic pesticides, herbicides and/or fungicides, or food with chemical additives or solvents.

Organic produce retains its nutrient content longer in storage than non-organic produce, which is good to know for Yukon winters.

And for concerned parents, children who eat conventionally grown-food had pesticide concentrations 6-9 per cent higher than those kids to ate organic (from The End of Food by Thomas Pawlick).

What About Location?

Information about different jurisdictions in Canada and their pesticide usage can be found at http://www.flora.org/healthyottawa/BylawList.pdf.

You will find that BC, for example, has a good reputation for minimal pesticide use. In the fall, you should find BC fruits (apples, for example) in Whitehorse that you can put in cold storage for use over the winter.

Brazil, Argentenia, Columbia and China are the heaviest buyers of toxic chemicals used for growing purposes, made and exported by the States (although most of the chemicals aren’t used in the States, they are still produces and exported there ).

You will find this information at http://fasenet.org/pesticide.html, and may choose to avoid produce from these areas.

Specific Produce Information

Wilted, discoloured produce of any type should be avoided because the nutritional value is rapidly declining. Check out the following list for more specific information.

Apples: chemicals reside on the skin of non-organic apples so peel them before eating.

Cruciferous vegetables: (broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts) absorb chemicals easily and are best bought organic

Bananas: are typically fumigated with chemicals for preservation. Organic bananas are not, and are reasonably priced in Whitehorse when available.

Bell peppers and cucumbers: are typically waxed for cosmetic purposes, which can be difficult to remove with washing.

Dried fruits: dates and figs are typically fumigated with chemicals to protect against insects or moulds.

Grapes: American grown-grapes have safer levels of toxins than grapes from other countries (Chile being the worst)

Lettuce: buy with tightly-closed heads that are relatively firm. These are signs of freshness.

Melons: have a high percentage of pesticide use, especially when grown in México. Any non-organic melons need to be washed well before cutting.

Oranges: it is still legal in USA to inject oranges with food coloring! BC oranges (or organic) would be your best choices.

Potatoes: Buying a bag full of either sprouted or green potatoes will not be worth the money, or time. Sprouted potatoes can be toxic so the sprouts and their eyes need to be cut out. Green potatoes can also be toxic, so the discoloration needs to be cut out.

Tomatoes: Avoid the rock hard, orange balls that are labelled tomatoes that you see on the shelves! Not only are they lacking nutrition but they are also lacking taste. If you can’t get organic, buy tomatoes on the vine because they are typically naturally ripened, which means they are tastier and more nutritious.

Tropical Fruits: papayas, mangoes and pineapples are typically sprayed or fumigated to keep bugs away. These types of toxins cannot be removed by simply washing or peeling either because they are contained in the fruit and/or seeds. Buying organic here is important.

You can place a weekly organic produce order year-round at the Alpine Bakery. You will get a lovely selection of produce that’s locally grown when available.

A number of local farmers also offer organic produce, and it is worth seeking them out.

Another option is to look into grow lights that can be used in light spaces in your home year-round for things like salad greens. Also, chives and other herbs (and sprouts) can grow on your window-sill.

I hope these tips give you the “boost” you need in order to get through the winter, and the produce aisle.

Amoree Briggs lives in the Yukon countryside with her family and has just completed her diploma in holistic nutrition.