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Relying more on organically grown produce

"I grow vegetables organically and depend upon poison-free produce from my garden both for myself and family," a column reader wrote. "However, I have a question. I find growing sufficient amounts on my plot difficult and sometimes impossible. During off seasons we rely on market-purchased produce. How much poison residues are we likely to ingest?"

Some shoppers view market vegetable displays admiringly but sometimes with a warranted suspicion. Chemically oriented growers often use heavy poison dosages, from before seed planting time until after harvest. Weed-killers and soil fumigants also add to possible chemical contamination.

During application, pesticides fall not only on plants but to the soil beneath. Carried downward to roots by rain they are taken up by growing plants and harvested vegetables. Unfortunately, no amount of peeling or scrubbing can remove potent poisons once they become a systemic part of growing and maturing plants.

The effect poison residues will have on the human body is difficult to say. It's doubtful anyone consuming poison-laced produce will become incapacitated or die immediately. No one seems to be sure of long-range effects.

Another danger lurks in chemically protected vegetables. Insect pests, becoming immune to current poisons, require still stronger potions to control their depredations. Each vegetable may require a different formula. Eating first one then another means ingesting more than one poison residue.

Dr. James A. Avery, a Clearwater-based internal medicine and pulmonary physician, places poison chemicals used on produce in perspective. "I am very concerned about health problems we are now seeing because of the terrible overuse of insect pesticides," he said.

Can't the federal government do something about it, someone is sure to ask.

They have, but some residues still remain. The Environmental Protection Agency sets tolerance levels, the amount of poison residues a human body can ingest without causing undue harm.

There seems to be one answer to the column reader's thought-provoking question. Grow vegetables, even in flower beds, whenever necessary. Preserve possible surplus for an off-season period, especially Florida's hot summer months.

If additional poison-free food is needed, patronize markets offering organically grown produce shipped from other states. While the price of produce grown without using poisons sometimes is a little more, human health is worth the added cost.

Leo Van Meer's book, Natural Gardening, is available from Van Meer Publishing, P.O. Box 3431, Palm Beach, FL 33480 ($10.95 post-paid, plus 77 cents sales tax). Address questions to Garden Naturally, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg 33731.