It's a tough choice --- leafy greens from a local farm grown using conventional methods or organic greens from a farm across the country. Locally grown and organic crops both offer benefits for your family and the environment. As you weigh this choice, consider your personal criteria: the characteristics of food that are most important to you.
Organic Is Healthier
Organic crops are grown free of synthetic chemicals; farmers rely on beneficial insects, crop rotation and other natural means to control pests and raise healthy fruits and vegetables (see References 6). Food grown organically is good for the environment and for you. A 2002 study on food additives and contaminants showed that organic crops had just one-third the amount of pesticide residues as conventionally grown crops (see References 4). Organic crops, boosted by healthy soils, also contain more vitamin C and nutrients such as iron, magnesium and phosphorus than conventionally raised crops (see References 5).
Local Is Fresher
Locally grown crops reach market faster than food trekking across the country, leading to fresher vegetables and fruit for your meals. Fewer miles from the farm to market translate into reductions in fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. However, the carbon footprint is not always lower for local food when other factors in the farm-to-market system are considered. In addition, grocery stores vary in their definition of "local" (see References 3). Learn more about your food choices by asking your favorite market how it defines "locally grown."
In a survey about locally grown food, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association found that almost half of respondents buy local food to support local farmers, and another third choose local food to support the local economy. Purchasing vegetables from the farmers' market directs money straight to the farmers; money spent on food grown in the region keeps dollars circulating among local businesses, which may even create jobs (see References 3).
Seek Local and Organic
Talking to growers at a farmers' market is a pleasant experience; each crop has a story, and it's neighborly to exchange a few words with your local farmer. Take the opportunity to ask local growers about their operations and find out if they are growing organically. At your grocery store, let the produce manager know if you're interested in buying local organic vegetables. Very local options are to grow your own vegetables using organic techniques or to join a local community garden where members use organic growing methods (see References 2, pages 22-23).
- Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association; Why Local? Why Organic?; Russell Libby
- Iowa State University Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture; Food, Fuel, and Freeways: An Iowa Perspective on How Far Food Travels, Fuel Usage, and Greenhouse Gas Emissions; Rich Pirog et al.; June 2001
- U.S. Department of Agriculture; "Amber Waves" -- Varied Interests Drive Growing Popularity of Local Foods; Steve W. Martinez; December 2010
- "Food Additives & Contaminants"; Pesticide Residues in Conventional, Integrated Pest Management (IPM)-Grown and Organic Foods: Insights From Three U.S. Data Sets; Brian P. Baker et al.; May 2002
- "Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine"; Nutritional Quality of Organic Versus Conventional Fruits, Vegetables, and Grains; Virginia Worthington; April 2001
- U.S. Department of Agriculture; Organic Production/Organic Food: Information Access Tools; Mary V. Gold; June 2007
First published in 2001, Marie Lenahan writes about horticulture, food and green living. Her work has appeared in gardening magazines and academic journals. Lenahan holds a Ph.D. in horticultural science.