Organic Vs. Local

As spring rolls around and the local farmers market starts up again, I find myself facing a dilemma that many environmentally conscious people are facing. Is it better for me to head to my grocery store and get my organic produce, which may have logged thousands of food miles to get to the shelves at Kroger, or stop by my community market and pick up some locally grown things, even though they may not be organic.

In an ideal world, all the veggies offered to me at my local market would be grown organically or even better, all my food would be coming from my very own garden, allowing me to be self sustainable. Unfortunately, neither of those things are an option for me, at least not right now, and so I am constantly going over this dilemma in my head.

Organically grown produce is good for the environment, because it was grown naturally and is supposedly pesticide free. This is also good for my body, as pesticides can lead to all sorts of nasty things both short (headaches) and long term (tumors, birth defects). Organic farming began with the best of intentions, but as it blossomed into a national demand, what the industry has dubbed “Big Organics” emerged. These are huge organic farms that focus on producing and shipping as much as possible. Here lies the problem; I know that eating a nice butternut squash that was not sprayed with tons of chemicals or genetically modified is good for me, and organic eating is a movement I support. However, what if I am getting my organic squash all the way from California? Do the food miles logged to get my squash from their happy organic farm (or huge industrial-sized organic farm) to my grocery store use so much fuel and create so much pollution and green house gas that they outweigh the friendly farming techniques all together?

Would it then be more beneficial to the environment (and economy) if I bought my squash (most likely not organic) at the market from a man who grew them himself, whose profits go directly into feeding his own family, supporting his own business,  therefor benefitting my local economy? And if you dedicate yourself to consuming mostly locally grown produce, this will help you eat seasonally, cause if it isn’t in season you’re not going to find it. Plus, if I want to know how the food I am about to buy was grown, all I have to do is ask the man who grew it. I can’t possibly do this in the organic  produce section at Kroger. However, perhaps it is just the neurotic in me, but I can’t help fretting about the chemicals in the food I buy whenever it isn’t organic, regardless of where it is coming from.

In the end, I haven’t come to a perfect conclusion, because this is a very complex issue. Buying locally and organic each has its pro’s and con’s. Because I try to eat seasonal whenever I can, I often buy locally before organic. I would rather put my money and trust into a local farmer than a grocery store (even the dreaded Wal-Mart carries organic produce now), and I feel if everyone did the same we could change the way our nation looks at food. Hopefully one day I will be able to grow a good amount of my own food, organically, but until then, whenever I choose local over organic I just rinse everything really, really well before I eat it and know that I am doing the best I can.

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About SexyTofu

Good food. Good sex. Good fun.
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3 Responses to Organic Vs. Local

  1. You’ve nailed it. It’s a difficult decision and it’s never black and white. I’ve been operating a home based organic farm and food processing business for 15 years and I’ve staked my company mission on serving the local food economy. However, you are right on to raise some of these questions. Local economic impact aside, just because something is local says nothing about it’s sustainability. And there are studies now showing that local can have a larger footprint in some cases. Imagine a fully loaded semi-truck carrying 15 tons of food and traveling 1000 miles compared to myself driving my pickup truck 60 miles round trip to attend a farmers market and hauling only 100lbs of product. I’m leaving a much larger carbon footprint in that case. While I’m a supporting vendor and customer at farmer’s markets, they are becoming so romanticized by many consumers that sustainability is getting lost. There’s nothing inherently sustainable about local food, though it can be, especially if “certified” organic. So in my life I reward local organic farmers with my dollars in hopes of promoting more of those choices. If organic is not available locally I will, in many cases, go further out of my community for those needs.
    Finally if you have limited choices in your community and chemical intake is your greatest concern you can check out my blog post “Going Organic on a Budget” where I list the top 10 most toxic to avoid and top 10 least toxic fruits and vegetables according to USDA testing. <a href="http://www.foodforthought.net/learn-more/blog/organic-on-a-budget.html&quot; title="Eating Organic on a Budget"
    Let’s all work for a system that provided, organic, fair trade and local choices.

    Timothy Fitzgerald Young
    President/Chef
    http://www.foodforthought.net

  2. Annie says:

    I am able to grow the majority of my own veggies year around and do so organically, and what I can’t, I search for locally and organic. I let my local growers know if they are not growing organically, that I would prefer organic and ask if they would consider growing organic. I let them know that I would be willing to pay more to have my food grown without pesticides. SPEAK UP! We all need to let them know what we want! I also let them know about Certified Naturally Grown (http://www.naturallygrown.org/). It is designed for the small farmer who wants to grow organic and be recognized as such but does not have the time or $ to get the wider known Organic certification. And Zoe, you and your readers can go to their site and punch in your city and find the small farmers who have taken the time to become Certified with their organization. Happy Eating :~)) Annie

  3. Sarah Judge says:

    I follow the motto, buy local and organic. If you can’t buy organic, buy local. If you can’t buy local, buy organic. Easy during the summer, tough during the winter. I guess that just means we need to start preserving food like our parents and grandparents, so when winter rolls around, we have a stocked pantry full of homemade jams, pickles, canned fruits and veggies and applesauce. I am looking forward to this summer and preserving tons of food with my mom, an expert (to me!) on the topic.

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