Ode's 2009 Organic Top 20 | The Optimist Daily
Today’s Solutions: June 23, 2024

A garden of earthly delights — Ode’s annual pick of products that are good for your body, your soul and the planet.

The Editors | May 2009 issue

Back in March, First Lady Michelle Obama made a bold statement when she picked up a shovel and began digging up a patch of White House lawn to plant a vegetable garden. She clearly signaled the importance to her and her family of organic and locally grown fruit and vegetables, as well as the importance to everyone of a healthy diet at a time when obesity and diabetes are major concerns. If organic food was once an “alternative” dietary choice, the Obamas are showing that today it’s become mainstream.
So, in Ode’s fifth annual Organic Top 20 list, we’ve done some digging of our own to come up with 20 products that are good for your body, your soul and the planet. Organic foods and other household goods make up a large part of the list, but we’ve also unearthed other innovative products—like bamboo sunglasses and a recyclable cell phone—that mix fashion, fun and philanthropy.
The organic movement has a lot of momentum behind it, even apart from Michelle Obama’s endorsement. The Organic Center, founded in Boulder, Colorado, in 2002, is working to provide peer-reviewed scientific information to help bolster the case for organic farming. In one recent report, for example, the Center advised pregnant women to choose “a well-balanced diet composed of ample organic fruits and vegetables, and dairy and grain products” to prevent the chemicals used in industrial pesticides from entering their amniotic fluid.
Organic agriculture seems to be taking off in the developing world, too. A 2008 report by the United Nations Environment Programme analyzed 114 projects in 24 African countries and concluded that, on average, yields of organic fields had more than doubled compared with conventional crops. Soil fertility, water retention and drought resistance also improved.
Organic products are becoming more deeply rooted in our diets, as evidence of the benefits of organic agriculture mount and supporters like Michelle Obama spread the word. It will be interesting to watch what else sprouts from the White House vegetable patch over the next four years. In the meantime, enjoy some of the fruits of Ode’s own garden of delights in this year’s Organic Top 20.

EO Products


With evidence mounting that some of the chemicals found in cosmetics can be harmful, it’s good to find a brand that reveals what’s going on underneath the pretty packaging. Family-owned EO Products uses pure essential oils, botanical extracts and as many organic ingredients as possible. The organic lavender hand-sanitizing wipes are a plant-based alternative to the chemical stench of baby wipes. The foaming hand and body soaps come in unusual and refreshing scents, such as chocolate mint and tangerine. Produced in Marin County, California, EO products derive their enticing smells from the essential oils of plants, more than half of which are sourced from neighboring small farms. All products are free of artificial fragrances as well as other suspect chemicals, such as sodium lauryl/laureth sulfates and parabens. The EO website features a “green glossary” that includes information on every ingredient so customers know what they’re putting on their skin. EO also donates free personal care products to homeless shelters and youth detention centers.

  • Hand wipes, $21.50 (box of 24); Foaming hand soap $7.50
  • eoproducts.com

Cascadian Farm

fruit spreads

The folks at Cascadian Farm like to point out that their brand isn’t just an organic food wholesaler, but a real place—a working farm in the foothills of the North Cascades mountains in western Washington state. And real is the operative word when it comes to the company’s fruit spreads, too—strawberry, raspberry, concord grape, blackberry, blueberry and apricot. Since 1972, all crops (Cascadian makes more than 75 products, from frozen fruit to cereal) have been grown using sustainable methods. Berries are harvested by hand. The ingredients not grown at Cascadian Farm are sourced from organic farmers both inside and outside the U.S. Cascadian’s emphasis on organic produce and quality control make these fruit spreads a real treat.


Simple Shoes


The designers at Simple Shoes have always loathed excess. When the company was founded in 1991, they sought to provide an alternative to the “over-hyped, over-marketed and over-teched” sneakers on the market. With 2005’s Green Toe Collection, Simple’s agenda took on an ethical dimension. “We’re in an industry that creates a lot of waste,” says Product Line Manager Cielo Rios. “And instead of twiddling our thumbs, we decided to do something about it.” The Women’s Mistletoe slipper characterizes the transformation. It’s made primarily out of organic cotton. Its soft fabric linings are made from bamboo, with recycled car tires converted into outsoles for the slipper. The vintage chic of its minty “Oil Green” model evokes an antique shop treasure. After introducing this shoe collection, the company reduced packaging to the bare minimum, eliminating hang tags and building boxes from 100 percent post-consumer recycled materials. In 2007, Simple launched EcoSneaks, which features the Men’s CARload Hemp Sneaker, a vegan-friendly shoe that includes recycled foot forms and hemp uppers and makes use of the organic cotton and car tires found in the Women’s Mistletoe. The company recently unveiled the GUMbo and GUMshoe, which eliminate the use of glue during assembly. Simple’s approach to sustainability is reflected in a series of ethical guidelines, addressing issues like child labor, health and safety.


Heavenly Organics


Tribal groups in the forests of central India have collected honey from wild beehives for centuries. Now, thanks to agronomist Amit Hooda, this rare organic product is available at Whole Foods Market and other natural food chains. Hooda has worked for 30 years to support traditional farming and food production practices in India. He helped tribal honey foragers develop sustainable methods that allow them to gather enough honey so they can support themselves and maintain their ancient way of life. Hooda, who divides his time between Fairfield, Iowa, and India, also ensures that they get competitive prices. Gathered from the hives of indigenous wild rock bees, the honey has a delicate flavor with a bouquet of floral notes. Plus it’s certified organic by Ecocert.


Enzymatic Therapy dietary


Enzymatic Therapy (ETI), based in Green Bay, Wisconsin, offers True Organics, a USDA-certified organic line of dietary supplements. True Organics vitamins don’t contain lead, microbes or other harmful substances and are made without chemicals or artificial ingredients. The ingredients in a True Organics supplement may seem reassuringly familiar. Expect vegetable oils, cherry extracts and soy bean and oat fibers—nothing complicated or controversial. Some supplements are gluten free; others are vegetarian. True Organics has five types that cater to a range of dietary needs. Feeling joint pain? Try True Organics Cherry. Need an energy boost? True Organics Iron might fend off your fatigue.


Sun Valley Bar

nutritional bars

The lush, mountainous countryside around Sun Valley, Idaho, is exhilarating: the perfect spot for skiing, hiking, cycling or whitewater rafting. And the famous resort town has a nutritional snack that’s just as energizing—Sun Valley Bar. Sarah Walker, a local cross-country skier and nutritionist, started the company from her kitchen in 2004. Combining her training as a dietician with her skills as a baker, she made her first bars for people in and around Sun Valley. As appetites for the bars increased, Walker turned her baking sideline into a serious business. Sun Valley bars come in four flavors—cranberry almond, peanut butter chocolate chip, chocolate chocolate chip and goji lemon. Each bar is made from whole grains (organic rolled oats and brown rice flour) and contains only natural sweeteners (brown rice syrup and maple syrup). They’re also crammed with fruit, nuts and seeds, delivering just the energy boost needed for an active lifestyle.


Eclipse Solar Gear

outdoor equipment

Need to power up a laptop, cell phone or MP3 player far from an electrical socket? Eclipse Solar Gear has found a way to cut your carbon footprint and keep you on the go—with solar-powered backpacks. A backpack from the Texas-based company doesn’t look as futuristic as its technology may imply. Eclipse’s standard model—the Reactor—is perfect for an afternoon hike or a stroll across campus. The photovoltaic cells and semiconductors it uses to absorb the sun’s energy fit discretely into the backpack. The Reactor is stylish and contemporary. Its solar grid even adds a splash of decoration to the nylon surrounding it. Spending most of your time in the wilderness? The Advantage Timber Reactor provides a camouflage finish to help you blend into the scenery. The Reactor backpack generates up to 2.5 watts of power, and is easy to use. And backpacks are only the beginning for Eclipse Solar Gear. The Solar Messenger series offers a lighter, more urban-looking alternative to the Reactor. The Travis Edition tackle bag is available for the high-tech fisherman. Eclipse also offers specialty bags for camcorders and bike travel. A Hybrid Laptop case is in the works. The Hybrid may be the briefcase of the future; it can protect and charge your laptop while you’re on the go.


Turtle Mountain

coconut milk ice cream

Here’s a new alternative for anyone trying to cut down on dairy products: Turtle Mountain coconut milk ice cream. The folks at Turtle Mountain, always looking for ways to improve their dairy-free offerings, came across coconut milk, which serves as a mildly sweet cream base for ice creams and yogurts. A staple in tropical countries, where it’s revered for its nutritional properties, coconut milk has the satisfying flavor of full fat at the same time as it’s high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Turtle Mountain’s coconut ice cream has a silky texture like gelato, is gently sweetened with agave and comes in vanilla, chocolate, cookie dough, mint chip and coconut flavors.




Having lived in both the U.S. and Asia, Jamie Lim has witnessed extremes of poverty and wealth. Still, she was struck by the fact that 36 million people are blind due to preventable conditions like cataracts that they can’t afford to fix. She’s not an ophthalmologist, but she wanted to help. So she founded KAYU and designed a line of glamorous sunglasses for women. Now in partnership with the non-profit organization Unite for Sight, KAYU donates $50 for every pair of sunglasses sold to fund sight-restoring cataract surgery. Many of these operations are done in Africa, where mortality rates for the blind are four times higher than for sighted people. KAYU sunglasses are made in China with oversized lenses and frames handcrafted from sustainable bamboo. They’ll make you look good—and feel good, too.


Diva International

menstrual cup

In a year, North American women go through enough tampons and pads to cover a small city. Francine and Carinne Chambers, the mother-daughter team behind Diva International in Kitchener, Canada, came up with a more environmentally friendly alternative: the DivaCup. Made of silicone, the cup contains no chemicals, dyes or additives, and eliminates the risk of toxic shock syndrome, a potentially fatal bacterial illness associated with the use of high absorbency tampons. The DivaCup is comfortable for up to 12 hours, whether you’re climbing a mountain or taking a nap, and a single cup lasts for a year. Says Carinne: “By choosing to use a menstrual cup instead of disposable tampons and pads, any woman is able to make an environmentally responsible choice each month.”




Hardship CAN BE a springboard for success. That was certainly the case for Kyung Sun Won, who founded The Pulmuone Cooperative farm in South Korea as a new beginning after the death of his oldest son at age 6. Today, what began as an eight-acre holding and in 1995 merged with the Wildwood vegetarian deli in San Francisco has become a multinational company making organic and natural food. One of Pulmuone Wildwood’s most popular products is an organic hummus that doesn’t taste sour. “I can eat a whole tub of this hummus, whereas I usually can’t eat hummus at all,” says company spokesperson Avis Noble. Wildwood Probiotic Hummus comes in flavors like Indian Spice and Raspberry Chipolte. The hummus is made from natural ingredients and contains probiotics, “friendly” bacteria believed to help digestion, eliminate toxins and keep cholesterol in check. But consumers may be just as interested in what it doesn’t contain: additives or preservatives like MSG. There must be some benefit to indulging in Pulmuone Wildwood products: Won is still active today at the age of 95.


Nature’s Path

organic granola

Modern diets are so over-sweetened that even “healthy” breakfast cereals are usually loaded with (raw) sugar or honey. Not so with Nature’s Path Organic Sunflower Agave Plus Granola. Agave is a mild sweetener derived from the nectar of the agave plant. It’s a form of sugar that’s absorbed slowly into the bloodstream, making it a healthier choice for anyone watching their blood sugar levels. Nature’s Path granola isn’t nearly as sweet as most other kinds, and it’s made from all-organic ingredients. Nature’s Path is one of Canada’s oldest natural-food producers. Still owned by the Stephens family, the company has been promoting organic food since 1971.




It’s time to lay off the bottle. With LUSH solid shampoo, you can have hot-looking hair without the wasteful plastic containers. Based in Vancouver, Canada, LUSH makes bars that look like soap but are equivalent to three eight-ounce (250-milliliter) shampoo bottles. That makes them small enough to fit into a gym bag—and concentrated enough to last for six months. So you prevent plastic waste at the same time as you avoid harmful chemicals, like sodium lauryl and laureth sulfate. Just wet the bar, run it down the length of your hair three times, then rinse. Karma Komba smells like patchouli and citrus and gives bounce to all hair types. Gentil Lentil is made with legumes and is a perfect detangler for your children’s fine hair. You can also use the bars as face and body soap or to wash your clothes while you’re away on vacation.



hard drive

Every year, millions of tons of toxic waste from computers piles up in dumps in places like China, India and Nigeria. Luckily, a handful of enlightened electronics manufacturers are developing alternatives to the ubiquitous plastic parts. The external hard drive from SimpleTech, called the [re]drive, is made from bamboo and recyclable aluminum. Bamboo is a fast-growing tree that flourishes without chemical pesticides. The bamboo in the [re]drive is processed with water only; no chemicals are used. Packaging has been pared down to the essentials: a recycled cardboard box with no extra bags or inserts. The user guide is printed on the inside of the box. The drive is also Energy Star-certified, meaning it’s been designed to run on less power. Mac- and PC-friendly, the 500 GB drive features a powerful Turbo USB 2.0 port.



mobile phones

Can cell phones be eco-friendly? Motorola’s MOTO W233 RENEW is giving it a shot. The RENEW’s lime-green plastic housing is made from recycled water bottles, and the phone is recyclable at the end of its life. Motorola has reduced the RENEW’s packaging size, and the materials inside the box are printed on 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper. Oh, and the RENEW has many of the features tech-savvy consumers look for: up to 2 gigabytes of removable memory, an MP3 music player, picture messaging and a Web browser. Motorola is billing the RENEW as “the world’s first carbon-neutral phone” and recently partnered with Carbonfund.org to offset RENEW’s ecological footprint. Certification from Carbonfund requires green investments, typically in reforestation efforts and renewable energy sources. Products go through a “rigorous life-cycle assessment to determine the product’s carbon footprint,” according to Carbonfund’s marketing manager, Ivan Chan. Projects sponsored by Motorola include the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge Reforestation in Louisiana, which is restoring wetland habitats as well as sequestering carbon dioxide, and the New Bedford Landfill Methane project in Massachusetts, a 3.3-megawatt renewable energy plant.


Bonterra Vineyards


Bonterra Vineyards in Medocino County, California, was one of the first left coast wineries to go organic. Bonterra, which means “good Earth,” has cultivated organic grapes at its McNab Ranch since 1987. At McNab, the farm is treated as a holistic ecosystem. Vintners attract wild birds and bees to fight pests; they plant cover crops between vines to create richer soils; and they allow chickens and sheep to range freely on the land to fertilize the soil and keep weeds down. This results in exceptional grapes that fully express the local terroir (“character”) of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel and Rosé wines.




Plain. Strawberry. Vanilla. When you’re in the mood for yogurt, your choices used to be limited. Not anymore. Rachel’s Wickedly Delicious yogurt offers exotic flavors and “essences” to pump you up or help you chill. Relax is vanilla chai flavored and has a soothing effect, with spices like ginger, cardamom and cinnamon. Revive tastes like pink grapefruit and contains lychee. They’re both overflowing with protein, omega-3s, DHA, calcium and probiotics. The recipes—developed by Rachel Rowlands, who took over her grandmother’s organic dairy farm in the U.K. in 1966—have taken Europe by storm, and premiered in the U.S. two years ago.


New Leaf Paper

office stock

To meet Environmental Protection Agency standards, recycled copy paper must contain at least 30 percent post-consumer content. That’s not bad, but the folks at New Leaf Paper decided to go much further. Consider New Leaf Everest, the company’s standard office model. Everest is 100 percent recycled, from 100 percent post-consumer waste. It’s bleached without chlorine or chlorine derivatives and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. which promotes responsible forest maintenance. “In our first year in business, we launched the first 100 percent post-consumer-waste letterhead paper, and we continue to innovate and drive change in the paper industry,” says CEO Jeff Mendelsohn. All New Leaf products are acid-free and free of chlorine or chlorine and its derivatives. All its paper is made without chlorinated organic compounds, which can have adverse effects on immune and reproductive systems. (Ode is printed on New Leaf paper.) New Leaf recently launched Primavera Silk, a double-coated sheet made from 80 percent recycled content, including 60 percent post-consumer waste.


Blue Buffalo Organics

dog food

In the offices of The Blue Buffalo Company, cats and dogs outnumber people. The Connecticut-based pet supply business started when founder Bill Bishop got a cancer diagnosis for his dog Blue. Bishop discovered that cancer is the No. 1 cause of death among cats and dogs, and that some veterinarians blame environmental toxins. Because of their comparatively small size, pets may be more sensitive to air pollution and harmful ingredients in household cleaners. So Blue Buffalo makes dog food with organic ingredients: de-boned chicken, brown rice, oatmeal, barley, peas and blueberries, with complex carbohydrates for energy and fiber for healthy digestion.


Traditional Medicinals

detoxifying tea

“It may appear that we’re in the herb business, but really we’re in the business of change.” So says Drake Sadler, co-founder of Traditional Medicinals, on a company website that lists teas that do everything from relieve cramps to improve memory. The business markets herbal medicine. One of Traditional Medicinals’ most popular products, EveryDay Detox, promotes liver function and digestion. Ingredients like gynostemma, schisandra and lycium serve as antioxidants, while ginger and black pepper add zesty. Drinking Traditional Medicinals teas feels like having an herbal medicine cabinet in your mug.


Reviews by Beth ann Miller, Dan Schank and Carmel Wroth

A garden of earthly delights

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