Actress Daryl Hannah is a vegetarian -- but one who doesn't really like vegetables.
"I grew up on starch and sugar, and I have a little vegetable phobia," she said today on "Good Morning America."
But organic vegetables -- those that have not been genetically modified, and are grown without pesticides, fertilizers, artificial additives, antibiotics or hormones -- have transformed her apprehension into passion.
Hannah is one of many Americans turning to organic products. Industry research has shown that the organic food sector is one of the fastest-growing segments of the food industry. That might also explain why the number of farmers' markets operating nationwide has doubled over the past 11 years.
Buying Organic at Farmers' Markets
Proponents of organic farming say its methods are innovative, not primitive, and the practices keep organic crops healthy and safe from pests without using chemicals. They also list taste, health and environmental benefits as reasons to choose organic.
"There's really no downside," said Hannah, who is also an environmental activist. "Organic is just all-around a better choice."
Hannah says the best and cheapest place to find organic products are farmers' markets, where consumers purchase produce directly from the farmers themselves. Buying in-season organic produce from farmers' markets can save you money, Hannah says, though savings vary depending on time and season.
"It's expensive at a health food store because there's a middle man," Hannah said. "Your best option is to purchase directly from small farms at the farmers' market."
Buying locally also minimizes the costs and resources required to transport food from the farm to the market, she said.
"The more locally you buy, the better it is for the environment," Hannah said. "You're not burning as many fossil fuels and releasing them into the air."
Is Organic Healthier?
But are organic foods better for you? Many nutritionists say yes.
Fresher foods tend to be better for you because nutrients deteriorate after food is removed from the vine, said Marion Nestle, professor in the department of Nutrition Food Studies and Public Health at New York University.
Nestle says there's another strong case for shopping green: the environment.
"Choosing organic products encourages growers to not use so many pesticides," Nestle said "This gets them out of the environment. It's demonstrably better for the farm workers. It's kinder to the environment in the long run."
The Environmental Protection Agency now considers 60 percent of all herbicides, 90 percent of all fungicides and 30 percent of all insecticides as potentially cancer-causing. Organic foods aren't treated with any of them.
The water content of a fruit or vegetable affects how chemicals are absorbed, so for juicier produce, Hannah recommends choosing organic. (To see Daryl Hannah's organic shopping list, Click Here.)
Looks Can Be Deceiving
Looking good on the outside can play an important role when consumers choose which produce to buy. Organic food, which might not look as perfect as conventionally grown food, can sometimes be a turnoff to consumers.
"Food that is grown as nature intended, and is a little curvier or a little different than what would fit into a certain kind of packaging, that food might go to waste unless it was sold in a farmers' market," Hannah said.
It's also possible to stumble onto exotic items -- like garlic tops, lobster mushrooms or an unusual multicolored bell pepper. These finds can vary by region, which is part of why Hannah enjoys strolling through the booths at farmers' markets across the country.
"Sometimes a farmer will find something on their own farm that's different or unique, and grow a lot of it," said Holly Givens of the Organic Trade Association. "That can be really fun to see. You do find things that you can't find anywhere else."
A fruit or vegetable that looks different than you're used to might also taste better than you're used to. Hannah conducted her own informal taste test at the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City, pitting conventional strawberries grown in Canada and Mexico and sold in a local grocery store against organic strawberries from a farmers' market, picked the night before. Her subjects said they could taste the difference.
"I know [the conventional strawberries] look very beautiful," one taste-tester said. "But [the organic strawberries] are very unique. They just taste more real, and they're sweeter."
That fresher taste makes it easier to eat more fruits and vegetables, Hannah said.
"I'm a new convert to vegetables," she said. "I'm retraining my palate. I couldn't do it if I wasn't eating fresh and organic foods."