Monday, October 22, 2012

Organic vs. Local

I have been asked so many times what I think is "better"... organic or local?

Hands down, my first answer is "both." There are small, local farms popping up all over the place, and the majority of these farms farm organically. That's organic with a little "o"... the uncertified organic practices that rely on crop rotation, manures and composts, integrated pest management and other ancient ecologically non-degrading practices, but haven't spent the years or $$$ to become official with a big "O."

If you can't have both (even though you can, see websites such as this to find the dynamic duo near you), then it's time to weigh the pros and cons.

Going local might mean you actually know your local farmer and can ask him/her directly about their practices. You can find them at farmer's markets or driving on secondary highways. They may not be able to label themselves as Organic, but their practices might be. But sometimes these local guys run conventional farms, which means they use inorganic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. And this is a tradeoff that we make, that we consumers should consciously grapple with when we purchase our vegetables, fruit, and even honey and wine.

Going organic might mean your foods are (nearly) inorganic pesticide/herbicide/fertilizer-free. This is good for your health and the health of the environment. But a lot of times the organic avocados, lettuce, celery and other produce we buy in supermarkets comes from humongous farms across the country or even the world. So what we spare in runoff into our water and waste streams, we contribute to in carbon footprint as our produce travels thousands of miles just to get to us (not to mention heavy irrigation, or unfair labor practices, etc.; see this article for some commentary). This is a tradeoff that we make.

There is considerable debate on this issue that continues in journals, the media and around dinner tables. I say go with your gut. Let's actually think when we make purchases about what values we want to uphold. And rather than ignore the part we play in modern agriculture's destruction of our ecology, get active each and every time we make that exchange of $$$ for food.

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