Imagine you’re out shopping one day, and you have to choose: do I buy organic or non-organic tomatoes for my pizza? You pick up two tomatoes and look at them side-by-side. You notice they look and feel the same. The only obvious difference is one of them has an organic sticker, while the other doesn’t. What’s the difference between them, you ask.
Three main ways organic and non-organic tomatoes differ
Certified organic field & hothouse tomatoes are grown on inspected farms
A big difference between the two is food on organic farms and greenhouses is inspected. Every year, organic tomato farms and greenhouses have to undergo inspections, explains Rochelle Eisen, organic food & farming expert and Canadian Organic Growers president. These rigorous annual inspections ensure crops have been grown according to organic standards.
“Organic farmers are also subject to unannounced inspections, too,” she adds. That means an inspector can show up on a grower’s doorstep anytime and ask to see how their crops are being grown. In comparison, inspections and verification for non-organic production systems isn’t a requirement.
Certified organic tomatoes are synthetic pesticide and fertilizer free
While non-organic tomato growers can use synthetic pesticides for pests, organic growers cannot. Eisen, who’s inspected organic farms and businesses, said organic growers will use spraying alternatives to control pests and ensure healthy soils.
“For tomatoes, if it’s a dry climate, it’s mostly going to be about fertilizers,” Eisen says. Field tomato growers may use green manure crops like rye or rye mixed with crimson clover. With this, they plow under to add nutrients to soils.
Organic growers have another options for plant health, says Norm Hansen, research director of Erieview Acres. They may also use biological control methods, or “bios,” as well as compost. He also provides pollen and food for natural predators in the area, in hopes that they will find habitat in Erieview Acres greenhouses.
“We’ve [organic growers] got all of mother nature on our side,” says Hansen. He added organic tomatoes cater to those seeking safe and more environmentally friendly food.
Certified organic tomatoes may have been grown in soil
The rules for whether organic tomatoes have to grow in soil vary depending on the country or region. For the United States, certified organic tomatoes can be grown hydroponically. This refers to a water-based solution with added nutrients. In Canada, certified organic tomatoes have to be grown in soil. Healthy soils are key for organic tomatoes grown in soil.
“If you have healthy soil, the plants are going to grow quick,” Eisen points out. In the same vein, Hanson said organic tomatoes aren’t a difficult crop to grow if treated right from the start.
While they may look the same, organic and conventional tomatoes are not grown the same way. Organic growers must follow organic standards, such as The Canada Organic Standard. While the United States must follow Department of Agriculture organic regulations.
Organic tomatoes are:
- Grown on inspected farms
- Are not treated with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers
- May be grown in soils rather than hydroponically