U.S. consumers spent about $30 billion on organic foods and beverages last year, up 9.4% from 2010 and significantly more than the $1 billion they spent in 1990, according to data from the Organic Trade Association. Organic food sales rose 21% in 2000 and saw strong annual growth until the recession hit in 2007; sales growth hit a low of 5.1% in 2009, before beginning to turn around the following year, but even in the tightest economic times, organic demand never declined and 78% of families now say they are opting for some organic foods.

Various studies — and sometimes different interpretations of the same studies — may differ on the nutritional benefits of opting for organic, but few argue against the idea that food raised without chemical pesticides comes to the plate cleaner. A much-quoted Stanford University Medical School study released this year found that organic foods aren’t any more nutritious than their conventional counterparts, but it did point out that it was 30% less likely to contain chemical residue. Separate studies, many cited by the OTA, have found higher levels of both nutrients and flavor in organic strawberries, blueberries and other produce.

Personal and environmental health are the two reasons consumers opt to spend more for pricier organic produce, the West Virginia Gazette reported Saturday. In addition, the organic industry generates jobs — 500,000 of them in 2010 and 21% more than would be generated if the food system were strictly conventional, the story says.

The growing demand is expanding supply beyond Whole Foods and other natural markets to mainstream grocers. In fact, the Gazette reports, mainstream supermarket chains now sell slightly more than half of all the organic food sold in the U.S. and Kroger recently revamped its private-label organic and natural food lines under the “Simple Truth” and “Simple Truth Organic” brands.

“People say organic is just a fad but it isn’t. It is here to stay,” OTA’s Barbara Haumann told the Gazette. “There are many venues to buy organic. You used to only get organic at food co-ops and Whole Foods. That was true but it has changed.”

Is something hitching a ride on your organic salad?

So, your organic food comes without chemicals — but what about other things you might not want to find in your fresh fruit and vegetables? Bloomberg Businessweek takes a look in this piece detailing some of the foreign substances some organic buyers have found, from a venomous spider in a bunch of grapes to a tree frog that hopped out of a bag of salad greens.

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