I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked this question, and the frustration that ensues because the answer is not absolute.
The answer is: It depends.
Our Food Philosophy outlines our thought process in depth when it comes to making these choices in our region, but deserves some elaboration in light of a recent surge in local food. In this article, organic is dismissed as a tree-hugging environmentalist cause in favor of local & seasonal like the Europeans do it. The fact of the matter is, the Europeans do it local, seasonal AND organic, all three go together almost without exception. Most of em go one step further and do it biodynamic, but I digress. I’d love to see how customers would respond to a menu that states: we use local tomatoes, plucked fresh from the pesticide-laden vine – enjoy!
The article, dismisses organic entirely as if it’s some green fad, yet most of the local suppliers mentioned are organic in practice, if not in certification. In fact, Deep Creek Ranch gives a really awesome explanation of why here, Rest Haven Farms talks about their methods here, Long & Scott tells it to us here. A distinction needs to be made about the challenges in certifying products and not decrying the practice of sustainably managing our crops, flocks and herds.
Let’s ask this question again, but in a different way. Would you rather feed your kids:
(A) a locally grown strawberry from a medium size farm you’ve never been to that has been grown with pesticides that are known carcinogens (see list of chemicals commonly used)
(B) a batch of certified organic strawberries from a big farm trucked in from California
(C) strawberries which were locally grown using organic principles, but were not “certified” organic since the small-scale farmer who grew them can’t afford the certification process and/or has a steady stream of customers who know him personally & take him on his word that he’s not poisoning your family or the rivers & streams.
(D) strawberries you grew yourself in your backyard, without pesticides.
I’m not the one to tell you what the correct choice is for your family, but it is important that you understand your food options at a deeper level so you can make the most informed decision given your circumstances, which may also be influenced by convenience, cost and how you prioritize your time. At Dandelion, we choose a blend of B, C & D.
Now, let’s elaborate on our answer. It depends… first on what your definitions of “local” & “organic” include. These words used to imply small scale, independent, sustainable, fair, artisan crafted, heirloom varieties. Nowadays, these words have been stripped of their soul. For example, Lay’s markets their potatoes as “local” in Florida because of their proximity, regardless of the fact that they operate as a huge industrialized agricultural operation. Additionally, the crops are not organic in the least, the potatoes are grown in fields where farmworkers are treated poorly, and the end product is actually under massive recall (not being reported in American press) at the moment. (Interesting piece about Lay’s Local marketing effort by a potato industry insider and a fabulous NYT piece here. More on the Localwashing movement in general here.)
On the organic front, a distinction can be made between “certified organic” and what I call “relationship organic” which happens when small scale growers & producers follow or often exceed organic standards but are not officially certified due to any number of factors including: cost of certification, use of hydroponics (not able to be certified), or simply because the consumer has a relationship with the grower and can discuss what pest-control, fertilization, etc methods that are used.
I will leave you with one final thought – this one about flavor. On the one hand, choosing local, organic, seasonal & artisan food almost always ensures the best flavor, and I’m a big fan of delicious tasting food (as ya’ll know since you eat at Dandelion). However, let’s keep it in our consciousness that our palette cannot distinguish whether or not the health of a farmworker, animal or ecosystem was sacrificed for our momentary pleasure. We must first see & hear for ourselves what has brought some morsel onto our plate so that all of our senses might be delighted in knowing that people, animals and earth were all respected and honored in order to satisfy our hunger.