Local or Organic?

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At our house, this is the hardest season to find anything good to eat. The freezer, stuffed to barely closing last October, is almost empty now, as are the canning shelves and the makeshift root cellar. Thankfully, it was a warm and early spring here, so we are eating garden salad greens to our heart's content. To be honest, though, my heart is content with just a few salads a week, which leaves a lot of other meals to plan and not a lot of food in the house around which to plan them. Consequently, I have been giving a lot of thought to the question of what to eat.

This is a subject I avoid, even though I love to cook. It's the deciding what to cook that I don't like. Give me a week's worth of menus and I'm happy, but send me to the grocery store without a plan and I could wander around for hours, made miserable by too many choices, too many dilemmas.

I suspect that this is a problem shared by many. Sorting out the most decent and honest options amongst everything at the grocery store is time consuming and difficult. Worse, the ultimate unknowability of which choice is "better" can make it an unsatisfying endeavor. Is the fresh organic broccoli trucked in from 1200 miles away better than the conventional broccoli grown and frozen 200 miles from home? How about the big-ag organic dairy's cheddar versus the small, local rBGH-free but not organic version?

We want to do the right thing. We want to feed ourselves and our family well. We want to do right by our farmers, farm workers, the environment, and the local economy. If we choose to eat meat or dairy products, we want those animals to be treated well. Yet we don't want to be confused or duped, and we don't want to spend our entire paycheck on a week's worth of food. Hence the dilemma.

On the local versus organic question, the ideal of course is to select foods that are both organically and locally grown. But as we know, it doesn't always go that way, and too often we have to make a choice. Many people maintain that we are better off choosing local over organic, the better to influence and strengthen the local food system, and to save the fossil fuel that would otherwise be involved in transportation. Where 'local' also means 'small scale,' many people argue for the value of getting to know the farmer and supporting a network of family farms. Others say that organic is preferable over local, pointing out that while keeping pesticides out of our water and off our food, organic production practices also prompt the soil to sequester significant amounts of carbon, an activity that is key to addressing the climate crisis.

In some ways, there is no reason to belabor such decisions. Small scale local and any sized organic are both good choices. As Samuel Fromartz has rightly pointed out, both are vastly better than anything offered by the conventional food system, which is still responsible for over 95% of the food eaten by our nation.

Still and all, some of us are wont to dwell on the small choices that one after another fill our grocery carts and kitchens and bellies. What about you: how do you choose what kinds of food to buy? Do you make different choices based on the type of food? How much time do you spend sorting out your food choices, and what most influences your decisions?

This month we are introducing a new comments feature, which allows readers to comment on our newsletter articles. This one has been on the To Do list for two years, and we are thrilled to finally have had time to put it together. Please help us inaugurate it by telling us how you decide what to eat. We'd love to hear.

By: Claudia White | Jan 20, 2011 06:03 PM | Permalink
Local versus organic? That may not be the question to ask judging from the various comments I am reading. Each person has their own concerns and ideas about the food they eat. For one person the concern is pesticides so the question should be were " organic pesticides or synthetic pesticides" used? Certified Organic does not mean toxic "organic" pesticides were not used . For another it is the fertilizer which can also be synthetic versus organic. For others it is replacing organic matter back into the soil, or the use of plastic in farming, or how much fossil fuel it took to ship that food to a particular local. Also, of concern is how nutritious the carrot is but who is actually testing the organic carrot from California versus the non organic local carrot and what do you test? Everything I know about farming says that the minute you cut a plant off from its growing medium it looses quality and nutrition. I would suggest we need a more precise and comprehensive list of questions to ask.

By: Clare Templeton | Jun 27, 2010 01:29 AM | Permalink
A) This is a great idea and have enjoyed everybody's comments. B) I definitely do organic AND CSA, depending on availability. Although I'd rather patronize locally, some stuff such as TVP/soy flour/spelt is not available from locals and hence the "organic" label is my only protection from GMOs. Am currently astounded at how much bread, cereal, etc is labeled "natural", proclaims itself free of HFCs and preservatives but nowhere reveals it may contain GMO grain. I have even found soy products in alleged health food stores which are GMO. One solution agreeable is for local dairies to post (i.e. in ads) and label non-BGH. A solution in the UK--for my "wish list"--is that some grocery chains post in the lobby their pledge not to sell products containing GMO. One of our local grocers puts up signs in the produce department the farm and/or farmer by name they bought the produce from, and I do notice even the big boxers are posting country of origin, finally. Amid all the variables, it appears that voting with our dollars is making inroads. Thanks again to all commentors..

By: | Jun 23, 2010 12:39 PM | Permalink
I have a very different situation than many people considering the local vs. organic: my diet is restricted, due to food sensitivities, being hypoglycemic and celiac. I have to eat organic and when I ask local farmers what kind of fertilizer they use, I usually get a reply like: '10-10-10'. That tells me that it's chemical and not organic. My health has improved about 100% since I started eating totally organic about a year ago. I haven't been to the doctor, except for my holistic chiropractor, since about a year ago, as well. I keep a nutritional 'bible' and consult it often for minor health problems, to keep them from becoming major health problems. I understand that the certified organic label may not always be insurance for someone like me, but it is a way to guard my health. I was raised organic (Mom and Dad only used chicken manure on the garden) and that's the kind of lifestyle my husband and I will pursue in the coming years. I feel for farmers, who, because of costs, think they cannot compete without the chemicals, but I won't be eating GMO food, unless there is no organic around.

By: Joy Williams | Jun 22, 2010 08:05 PM | Permalink
CSAs are the key to coming up with a workable solution for our family. I buy certain things every week at the grocery store, 1 meat, 1 veggie, 1 fruit, 1 juice, 1 loaf of bread, etc. For a long time I went with organic, but that is not the only issue. The abuse in any large scale industry for animals is appalling, and for a long time I have been ashamed that I buy that meat. Local meat is extremely expensive, but tastes so much better. Its like the difference between crab and imitation crab (although I probably shouldnt use that example because I like them both). But maybe thats the point. We have local milk that is AWESOME, but not local enough that Ive visited the farm or talked to the farmers (except through e-mail). So I am still wary of their real practices versus the claims. But I love the taste of large scale milk too.

Thanks in part to local harvest I have been able to find some amazing local farms. There are local goat milk producers that give you a gallon of milk a week while you buy a share and then pay for weekly boarding and care of your share (cheap for goats milk). THIS is what I really want! There is a local woman that on a very small scale raises shares of chicken and will process them for you when your share is old enough for slaughter. I cant help but think that even if she fed her chickens non-organic feed, there is no chance that she is feeding them leftover chicken parts from large scale processing, and the local chicken factory has birds that are probably being raised packed into a barn with no sunlight, bad breeding, and disgusting conditions, even if they do have pesticide free corn to eat.

So I think local is not always the answer, organic is not always the answer, and maybe communication IS the answer. You have to be able to talk to the farmers and see if you trust them. Reading it on a printed package is not good enough. The CSAs give me the ability to have food ordered for our family and plan out long term what we will have to eat, instead of every week trying to figure out where Im going to get my meat and veggies. The farmers market is where I get fruit and bread, and the grocery store is where I struggle to do the best I can. The CSA gives me time to research the one place I plan on getting my food from and then supporting the place I believe in the most. It should also be noted that I do not think acres and acres of organic iceberg lettuce is a happitarian place either. Diversity is part of what I look for on a farm.

I have to say (and please know I am laughing at myself for saying this) that if I were to die I would rather die at the farmers market or a local store than in the organic section of a chain grocery store, even if it is Whole Foods or Earthfare (FYI, this analogy occurred to me the very last time I enjoyed a shopping experience at Wal-mart, now I cant stand going in them).

By: Trisha Winn Schultz | Jun 22, 2010 05:54 PM | Permalink
I am an organic farmer, though we are not yet certified. If you know your neighbors, or simply ask people at local farm markets, you can get local AND organic with a little effort. I certainly understand where many strictly organic proponents are coming from, not wanting any chemicals in the food -- I have two children with disabilities that can be traced back to mercury in the water, and pesticides and hormones in our food has done a number on one of my boys, before I knew better. However, as a farmer and a consumer, and as someone who wants a cleaner food supply and earth for future generations, I have to look at the TOTAL cost of any food I buy, i.e. organic strawberries from California actually put more burned petrochemicals into the air (and eventually the rain, and the soil) to get to my midwest store than the guy twenty miles away who might have sprayed his berry patch with something. Do I want those sprayed berried in my kitchen? No. But I surely won't buy the organic berries from across the country whose journey to my jam jar caused more chemicals and pollution of water and soil than the guy down the road who is not certified organic.

By: Daniel Nash | Jun 13, 2010 06:14 PM | Permalink
In response to organic or local,I have pretty muchgiven up on the organic label, that has been comprimised by the governments interference in how organic become organic. The organic label is product of the chamber of commerce and agribusiness, and the standards are constantly changed so that organic no longer means organic. Big business has scored a huge windfall by selling their product at organic prices. I would rather support my local farmer and spend my money where it makes the community a local hub of commerce and help to end the monopoly on food. i shop at local farmers market, and enjoy some of the best food, and meet some of the best people. Food should always be personal!

By: Matthew Piltingsrud | Jun 9, 2010 08:05 PM | Permalink
This is in reply to Erin's email newsletter, Fire up the grill. In it, Erin stated, "We eat meat now and then if we know the animal got to live a good life."

I, too, tend to eat this way, and I've even given this kind of eating a name: happytarianism. Consume the products of happiness, and you will be happy. Consume the products of misery, and you will be miserable. This is an idea, and a term, I would love to introduce to others. Instead of focusing on whether what we're eating is animal or vegetable, focus on whether or not the animal was given everything it needed for a happy, healthy life. If it was given everything it needed for a happy, healthy life, then feel free to eat it. This way, we're supporting happiness with our diet and our money.

The whole goal of this philosophy is to consume happiness in every possible way, since we are what we eat. It can go beyond food, to include clothes and any other consumable goods. Consuming happiness, the food itself has a direct impact on our health and well-being, and also supports the system under which the food was produced. Thus, a farmer, for example, who raises beef cattle in a happy, healthy environment can continue to do so.

Have a happy day! Matt

By: John Myers | Jun 6, 2010 12:45 AM | Permalink
Thank you Keri for your comments regarding organic and local crops. You did an excellent job of explaining why some of us have chosen not to go certified organic. We do live in our peach orchard and my children do run through the trees barefoot. I wouldn't have it any other way.

By: Landis Spickerman | Jun 1, 2010 05:22 PM | Permalink
I am a farmer, certified Organic (Hermit Creek Farm in northwestern Wisconsin). I choose to certify Organic because it is my pledge to my valued customers that I am doing my best to farm in a responsible manner. The certification process also makes me a better farmer.

I hope that people choose local-organic, that's what I buy when not eating my own product. If local-organic is not available, then I look for regional-organic, then organic. The local versus organic discussion is an important one. You can go to my local food coop (who carry a lot of my products) and purchase butter made from local milk. That's great, my neighbors cows milk is in that butter and he's my friend. He's also not organic. His forage corn is GMO roundup ready (his fields were just sprayed and are a lovely shade of brown). His cows are rarely out of the barn. I do not eat his butter.

Get to know where your food comes from. Visit farms, shop at farmers markets, educate yourself, ask tough questions, think through the process.

By: | Jun 1, 2010 04:02 PM | Permalink
organic all the way,bottom line fore me is no pestacides! I sure do wish more local would go organic!

By: | Jun 1, 2010 03:21 PM | Permalink
I agree with the first post. I prefer organic. Although I would like to support local farmers I don't want to feed myself or my family the poisons that can accompany their produce. Food with chemicals in it will lose every time! ~ Robin Ann

By: Laura Sos | May 30, 2010 08:32 PM | Permalink
I have just read all of the comments posted since May 27th regarding "organic vs local". I am grateful for all of them but the one that got to me the most was the woman who said (I have paraphrased) "why does it have to be this way"? I agree. How did we get here? I realize I have had my head in the sand for quite some time regarding our food sources (I am speaking about the big agri-businesses - ugh!). I am more aware now of what's going on with our food but it does aggravate me to have to make choices between health and cost. Food used to be fun. Now it is a nightmare and has made eating another stressor in an over-stressed world. (sigh) Ok. I had to vent. In the end, I'll do the best I can given all the info everyone has shared and additional research I plan to do on this subject. Thanks!

By: Keri Wilson | May 29, 2010 10:39 PM | Permalink
Organic pesticides are often the same pesticides used by conventional farmers. However, organic pesticides are mined from the earth which can be very damaging to the environment and to the carbon balance. Keep in mind that large farms are necessary (95% of all food is produced by them) and that we must ALL be held accountable for our usage of planet earth. Carbon sequestration is done best by NOT plowing, something organic and conventional farmers are both guilty of. Turn the soil and you release more particles of carbon into the ozone than driving that suburban into the market. Which brings me to the point of weed control, are we better off to kill weeds with FDA approved, properly applied soft chemicals or till? Burn or use highly acidic manufactured vinegar like products that permanently alter soil pH (organically certified) to keep noxious weeds in check? As a local farmer I believe in using science and research to make wise decisions for future generations of land stewards who will farm after I am gone. We have not chosen to be organically certified because it would leave our soil unsuitable for farming in the future (weeds are the major issue). The increased revenue now would be nice, but it would be selfish and not long-term. Our farm uses many 'organic' practices and has for over a century, long before the word was coined. As consumers we must make wise buying choices everyday. How sustainable is this product? Is this farm interested in a quick buck? Are they here for the long run? Do they live in the orchard? Do they care about their grandchildren playing hide and seek in the sweet corn? Think about it. Is it a label you understand? Organic pesticides can be most things on the periodical chart. Copper fungicides, sulphuric acid... The real difference in products will always be, DO YOU KNOW THE FARMER? DO YOU TRUST THE FARMER? If you don't know where they live, where they get their water, or who they buy THEIR groceries from - DON'T buy their produce.

By: Susan Barton | May 29, 2010 03:33 PM | Permalink
This is the exact reason my husband and I started growing blueberries on a semi-large scale. We were also looking for some retirement income, but for the most part, trying to contribute to rather than take away from the land while feeding ourselves and others in a healthier way is our goal. We currently have 800 blueberry plants and 600 strawberry plants and are quickly learning the rigors and difficulties of growing organic. It is so fulfilling, though, to know when we sell products to our customers, they are getting the food we all want and expect. Something that nourishes and builds us up, not a chemically laden pseudofood. Feeding ourselves has and will continue to be difficult and time consuming, but I think the work is worth it. Sue Barton Blueberry Acres Au Sable Forks, NY

By: | May 29, 2010 02:41 PM | Permalink
Thanks so much for the book title. I'm going to look for it, it sounds like a good read!

By: | May 29, 2010 01:30 PM | Permalink
This article was an eye opener for me as far as pesticides being used on organic food. I have always bought local when possible but living in Mi. that is a very small part of the year. I am a Success Life Coach and do a lot of study. I have come across some interesting books and have been taking some natural health classes and have begun doing the following for myself. I am currently in the process of switching to eating mostly RAW, I have been eliminating eating red meat for the past 3 or 4 years, I occasionally eat organic turkey and fish. I just finished a book series that is true called, The Ringing Cedars of Russia. It is a set of 9 books. It is about a Russian recluse lady named Anastasia. She lives in a Forrest Glade in the Siberian Forrest (NO HOUSE). She eats off the land. No meat. she uses the Cedar oil and pine nuts. Her relatives live to be well over 100. These books are different than anything I have ever read. Too much to go into here, but one of the main things Anastasia teaches is how to plant your seeds to match your DNA. What ever you plant, the plant knows what your body needs to heal itself and according to Anastasia when you eat this way 15 minutes after picking your fruit or vegie the plant will supply what ever your body needs to heal itself! It is a truely amazing series. the planting info is found in book # 1. I have also just completed a 6 month course and learned about eating Raw which goes along with the book series I just completed. I have planted several plants Anastasia's way and I am planting a square foot garden. Takes very little space and produces a lot. To plant Anastasia's way you have to have a little space for plants as you have to stand in the dirt. I am not planning on using any fertalizers on my plants. I have used a humas black dirt to plant in. For Anastasia's plants, You have to stand in the dirt and let the seeds take in your sweat. You only need to plant a few plants her way not the whole garden. This is an experiment for me as I want to see how it works so Iam excited to see how I feel when eating them. I think if we all take a little time and plant a few things to eat on in the summer we would be much healthier. I have been going to farmers markets In Mi in the summer and Fl in winter. Spring is the hardest time as there is not much to offer. I have also found eating only what is in season is much healthier as well, Europeans eat only what is in season. God gives us fruits only at certain times of the year and I think it was to keep a balance of the sugars we intake. Sugar causes weight gain and other problems. I also think forums like this where people can share ideas and crops is a good start to going back to being local, keeping money local and putting agri business out of business. In reading Anastasia's plan she speaks of everyone having their own Domain to sustain yourself and your Kin this is a start.

By: | May 28, 2010 02:43 PM | Permalink
How about adding the definition of CSA to this discussion of local and organic? Last month's Local Harvest newsletter highlighted a farm with several thousand members that ships their vegetables far beyond what could reasonably be called their local community. Yet because their "members" pay up front for their boxes of produce, the farm calls itself a CSA. When "organic" went large-scale and corporate, small farms either had to pay the price in time and money of certifying nationally or give up the word "organic," even though they had pioneered the very concept. Seems like "CSA" is going the same way, potentially undermining the farmers who created the movement. Since there's undoubtedly room for more than one model of direct market agriculture, I suggest the term "RDA"--Regionally Delivered Agriculture--for these "big box" operations. What do others think "local" means for CSA?

By: Barbara Bernhardt | May 28, 2010 02:18 PM | Permalink
I am currently buying spinach, radishes, green onions, green garlic, wild leeks (ramps), asparagus and lettuce from our Farmer's Market. This is the first year I am a buyer, not a seller, though I do have someone working my place and using my name. I am the only certified organic grower (eggs, too!) but the produce in that market is mostly all local. Nobody need want for variety here in Lowville, NY!!

Barb's Organic Garden tughillb@northnet.org (315) 376-4701

By: | May 28, 2010 01:16 PM | Permalink
Good piece. You described the problem. We choose local first. But the pesticides and the excessive water use is a worry ....

By: Dennis Nanni | May 28, 2010 01:52 AM | Permalink
While local food may be better than conventional food that's trucked in from a great distance, nothing beats organic pesticides and all. While organic pesticides may get into the ground water etc. the word organic means they dissipate naturally with little or no residual effect. Organic means no synthetic fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides. Better for the consumer, more nutrients, superior taste plus better for the environment. If more growers would grow organically the price of organic produce would become close to the same as conventional. Certified Naturally Grown is grass roots organic. It's the same as organic without government intervention thereby cutting some of the expense of growing organically. It's time to stop teetering on the fence and make the plunge, grow and eat organic. There is no challenge organic is better, local organic is fantastic.

By: | May 28, 2010 01:21 AM | Permalink
Wow, what an eye opening post. I'd like to thank everyone for their comments. I for one, have done a TON of research on organic and pesticides, but I've never came across some of the eye opening truths you've mentioned here (scary). Thank you.

So how does a consumer go about talking to the person on the other side of the "farmers market" stand? I don't want to offend, I just want knowledge of what I'm buying.

I wish more Northern Kentucky folks, would create a voice here at LH.

Gabreial

By: Kenneth Der | May 27, 2010 10:58 PM | Permalink
YOU CAN HAVE BOTH !!! Here at Big Bear Farms we have been growing Certified Organic for the last six years. It is true that costs are very high but we have been able to capture a customer base of over 2000 families in the Tampa-Plant City, Fla area that are starving for true organic foods. I don't buy foods from other countries because I know what they spray with. Many times they use chemicals that are banned in this country. Back in the 80s when pesticide laws were passed for our protection, we felt safe. Little did we know that part "B" of the Act, the financing of testing, was not passed and to this day is a dirty little secret that is hid from the public. Ask any Federal Congressman and watch his eyes as he tells you a lie. When considering the cost of true USDA certified organics one should consider the look, on the face, of a child eating blueberries for the first time, because he is reactive to the pesticides on regular blueberries. That look is priceless. As such, when factoring in the cost of organic foods please remember to subtract the cost of medical care that is many times needed because of pesticide overload to our systems. Use one of the many websites such as LocalHarvest to find out what is available in your own neighborhood. You may be suprised!!

By: Martin Okos | May 27, 2010 10:40 PM | Permalink
As we are all aware organic does not necessarily mean pesticide free. I think it is very disingenuous that we continue to let the myth propagate that "organic is preferable over local, ....(by) keeping pesticides out of our water and off our food,...." Although I am sure none us of do, certified organic growers, are allowed to use a wide array of highly toxic pesticides with many the same as used by conventional growers. The only difference is that organic pesticides are from natural sources and conventional pesticides are made synthetically. Do we want the public to continue believing that organic is pesticide free primarily for the marketing advantage since most consumers are somewhat concerned about the possible effects pesticide residues may have on health? What will happen when the public realizes that the organic pesticide free emperor has no clothes? Will the consumer feel betrayed or will we continue to say that although many organic pesticides are highly toxic they are good for the environment.

By: | May 27, 2010 09:33 PM | Permalink
I'm with Denny Hunt, you go my friend!!!! I prefer local/organic and I grow as much as I can for myself and family. The Organic part of this statement is I seek out local farms that practice organic farming most are not certified. Denny if you were here in my town I would buy from you in a heartbeat. He said it all folks. Jan in Washington State

By: Tom Rubino | May 27, 2010 07:38 PM | Permalink
Hey it's Tom again from Hudson Milk, I guess I wasn't very clear regarding the antibiotics...Naturally, I am only referring to when a cow is really sick (they do get sick just like we do occasionally). If you are a "certified" organic dairy, it is my understanding that you cannot use antibiotics...now I may be wrong about that, but that's what I have been told. We support farms that take good care of their animals and keep them healthy and feed them grass and hay and silage along with fresh air and sunshine and love.

By: | May 27, 2010 07:28 PM | Permalink
I think the dirty dozen referred to is the list from the Environmental Working Group, using USDA data. Summary:

The Dirty Dozen

Of the 12 most contaminated foods, 7 are fruits: peaches, strawberries, apples, domestic blueberries, nectarines, cherries and imported grapes. Notable findings:

More than 96 percent of peaches tested positive for pesticides, followed by nectarines (95.1 percent) and apples (93.6 percent).

Nearly 86 percent of peaches contained 2 or more pesticide residues followed by apples (82.3 percent) and nectarines (80.6 percent).

Strawberries and domestic blueberries each had 13 pesticides detected on a single sample. Peaches and apples were second, with 9 pesticides on one sample.

Peaches had been treated with more pesticides than any other produce, registering combinations of up to 67 different chemicals. Strawberries were next, with 53 pesticides and apples with 47.

Celery, sweet bell peppers, spinach, kale, collard greens and potatoes are the vegetables most likely to retain pesticide contamination:

Some 95 percent all celery samples tested positive for pesticides, followed by imported cucumbers (84.5 percent) and potatoes (84.2 percent).

Nearly 85 percent of celery samples contained multiple pesticides, followed by sweet bell peppers (61.5 percent) and collard greens (53.2 percent).

A single celery was contaminated with 13 different chemicals, followed by kale (10), and collard greens, domestic green beans, spinach and lettuce (9).

Celery had been treated with as many as 67 pesticides, followed by sweet bell peppers (63) and kale (57).

Clearly more than '5% residue' though the research, as reported at least, does not refer to amount of residue or its relationship to recommended exposure. More at

http://www.foodnews.org/methodology.php

By: Tina Burkhart | May 27, 2010 07:13 PM | Permalink
Please read The Omnivores Delima by Michael Pollen. He follows food from it's source to the table. When you read it I think you would prefer the local farmer over large scale "orgainic". "Organic" is a very subjective term. No this is not one of those "shock you/sicken you" books about our food sources (I hate those), it is just an account about how food is grown in the US. Although the author is a professor at Berkeley, this is not some left wing nuts version of what we should be eating. I think it is fair, relatively impartial, tells both sides of the story, and is very well done. The author gets in there and takes a farmers eye view literally, of how food is produced. I think anyone who is interested in where there food comes from and how it is raised until harvest, would enjoy this book.

By: Julia A Bolin | May 27, 2010 07:10 PM | Permalink
I try to grow it myself first, preserving as much as possible.

Then, I would purchase locally - whether it be organic or conventional. (Reasoning - the small farmer that is using conventional methods cannot afford to use the amounts of pesticides that are used in commercially grown produce.)

I also try to purchase only what is actually in season (not in season in Chile or China), otherwise - I do without.

My local store doesn't even carry anything organic (and if it is trucked 3000 miles.....).

By: Cindra | May 27, 2010 05:47 PM | Permalink
Thank you to Todd for his comment about his 2200 acre farm. It is this sort of information that I find most helpful. And Todd, at 2200 acres and I believe you said family-owned, you are large, but you are NOT a factory farm as far as I can tell. So bravo, keep up the high standards, and continue to help us decipher the complexity of all the new information we're receiving.

By: | May 27, 2010 05:28 PM | Permalink
But, Todd, what about the new "dirty dozen" list that was just put out?

By: todd Michael | May 27, 2010 05:13 PM | Permalink
The article was pitting choice between small local and organic. What is wrong with big local? My family grows vegetables on 2200 acres, employs 40 local people from the community and could on most years meet organic standards except for the fertilizer. To take on that much risk in this part of the country to not be able to use a certain safe protectant is not sustainable. Did you know that over 95% of all produce grown in this country has no detectable pesticide residue, and that is testing at parts per trillion? The other 5% is under the safe limits set by USDA. Did you know that certified organic growers use many toxic chemicals, but the difference is that they are found naturally and not produced in a factory? Our produce is tested by the Ohio Department of Agriculture as well as an independent lab and have never found any residues. I choose local over organic because it is better for the environment and local economy

By: | May 27, 2010 04:58 PM | Permalink
I just wish this dilemma didn't exist. Wouldn't it be nice if the words "organic" & "conventional" didn't exist? Or "grass-fed" & "grain-fed"? I just wish simple, healthy food didn't cost so much! With a family of 5 and one paycheck(and residing in NJ$$!), I just can't afford to buy a free-range chicken! Doesn't that seem silly?

By: Janice and Wayne Petty | May 27, 2010 04:48 PM | Permalink
We are uncertified and proud of it... Proud to be able to have that choice, proud that people will come buy our food and believe in our "uncertified" gardening practises which are still old fashioned organic, and ever so pleased that people realise it is more important to know who your farmer is and what he is doing, rather than to blindly trust a seal of certification given by someone you do not know to someone you do not know on food that comes from who knows where. I too choose local over organic, and even truly local over organic local that is still hundreds of miles from my home. Under 1500 miles is not local by my standards. It's possibly half a nation away.

By: SR | May 27, 2010 04:45 PM | Permalink
First choice: know the farmer and their practices and buy directly from them (some farmers will choose not to go through the costly process of organic certification although they do practice organic farming)

Second choice: other local organic (farmer's market, etc)

Third choice: local conventional (u-pick, farm stand, etc, with the exception of high pesticide crops. Ex: I never buy conventional grapes or tomatoes)

Fourth choice: mail order organic from small farms (local harvest, anyone?)

Fourth choice: industrial organic (i.e. the big organic brands at the grocery store.)

By: Service | May 27, 2010 04:41 PM | Permalink
Hi - I'm Jeff Barry, the founder/owner of Boston Organics. We do home delivery of organic produce to households. This is a hot topic that has created a lot of internal debate in the company.

We have decided to stick with selling only certified organic produce, and local and organic whenever possible. We feel that it is very important to support and encourage local farms that are willing to risk growing crops using certified, sustainable methods. Also, the certification provides guidelines as well as some level of accountability and monitoring. Over the past few years, we have probably lost some business because we do not have a strong enough emphasis on local.

We do offer a special, concept box that we call the "Dogma Box" that includes items sourced as close to Boston as possible. In the winter there are a lot of root vegetables. We intentionally did not call it the "local" box as many would consider the items in it as not local.

In general, by sticking to certified organic, we have access to most vegetables that can be grown locally. Fruit is different. The supply is not there for our customer base. It is much more difficult to grow fruit in New England using certified organic methods without the risk of crop failure due to bugs and mold. Most of the certified organic fruit growers in New England sell directly to the public via farmstands and CSAs and rarely have any extra to spare. We work with one grower in VT that provides us with both organic pears and apples. It is amazing the level of monitoring that is required to ensure his fruit survive the elements.

As interest and demand in local agriculture increase, I think more people will be asking for more organically grown fruit and vegetables especially if they are being grown closer to home. We are already seeing more local organics available. Itâ??s been exciting to see how quickly growers have been positively responding to the increase in demand.

By: | May 27, 2010 04:31 PM | Permalink
I prefer organic. I know local farmers are trying to get by and mean well by all of us, but I don't want poisons on my food. I may be in the minority here, but I believe the chemicals being sprayed on our produce are causing illness and disease over time. I still buy local, rather than organic, when I have no alternative choice, but I will be actively searching for the local/organic options available around the Salem area.

By: Denny Hunt | May 27, 2010 04:23 PM | Permalink
I am a small, part-time grower who shares land (for labor) with a CSA and a cut flower operation on 10 acres. I grow potatoes and sell primarily to local food markets and to the public when they come to our small farm. I do not participate in Farmer's Markets or any venue where I am asked for "permits, licenses, organic certification, etc." or any such paper. My goal is controversial and perhaps unrealistic, but I want to be a paperless farmer. I do not see that I would have any improvement to my potatoes or to my customer relations if I were to have such paper, but I have been turned away too! Perhaps I am myopic, but I consider it a small price to pay to help get us out of this non-sense of seeking costly permission from others when I am already doing a conscientious job growing good food, taking care of my land and respecting my neighbors. That's my buck three eighty and thanks for this article and thanks to Local Harvest! Denny

By: Mary | May 27, 2010 04:08 PM | Permalink
When I talk to many of the local farmers at the market or along the road, they are actually using organic methods. So I feel pretty safe buying local. Also, my doctors recommend local to cut down on allergic reactions. I guess they feel you build up an immunity to locally grown foods. Certified organic can be very costly when money is tight.

By: Kerry Wicker | May 27, 2010 04:01 PM | Permalink
Hopefully a farmer doesn't use antibiotics every time an animal gets sick. When I get sick I don't use them. These meds are for seriously illness, not the everyday cold or flu. Rest rest rest is the solution to being sick.

By: | May 27, 2010 03:09 PM | Permalink
re Christine: You are exactly right!! Hay is grass, and must be mowed, baled and stored for winter feed. Our cows at Homestead graze pasture/woods for approximately 8 months of the year, but are fed hay during winter months.

By: Christine Babb | May 27, 2010 02:30 PM | Permalink
In response to the person who said they feed their goats grass and then supplement in the winter with hay, I was under the impression (from watching my neighbors haying their fields for the past three seasons) that hay *is* grass, albeit grass that's been cut and rolled up for storage. Or am I missing some important distinction?

By: Tom Rubino | May 27, 2010 02:26 PM | Permalink
we prefer local over organic any day! we know our farmer and we know how he treats his cows and handles his products. We are in favor of compassionate, caring farmers and stewards of the earth. We support local, small family farms. when walmart started labeling "organic" we were quite suspicious! And as far as NEVER using antibiotics, can someone tell me what the organic farms do with a sick cow? do they just let her die? Don't get me wrong, I am not in favor of antibiotics in milk, but if a cow gets sick, shouldn't we treat her just like we treat ourselves and our families? She should be taken off the milking line until she is well and there are no traces of antibiotics in her system or in the milk. Like everything, there is more than one side to consider.

By: Guillermo Payet | Dec 19, 2011 02:52 AM | Permalink
A former comment suggested that 95% of the food folks eat in this country are local. What!? Have you not seen lines at Kroger, Walmart and Sam's Club? Does anyone consider China "local"? Is "local" really saying "in the USA"? (My local Kroger puts "local" on blueberries from Michigan--in Ohio!) I'm guessing that 5% of the folks eat "local or organic".

Also, has anyone mentioned that the "organic" designation is beyond reach ($$$) of many "small" producers? It costs about $500/yr in Ohio. (That is after one year of organic imputs for our animals which cost about 1/3 more than conventional foodstuffs, previous to the designation.) We already pay over $300/yr. for real, scientific, inspections. Why would we do another that doesn't promise lab results?

Yes, we allow our goats grass. Did you know that grass does not grow MOST of the year? We have to feed hay because in Ohio, May, June, and part of July is when our grass is really good. We supplement with hay most of the year. Is that grass fed? It's time that farmers become honest. "Grass fed"--of course, it is a requirement of all ruminants. (cattle, goats, llamas etc.)

Please, let us use real science with lab results for the beliefs we hold so dear.

By: Mimi Sidwell | May 27, 2010 01:27 PM | Permalink
It is a bit of a jungle out there for the health conscious consumer - organic, natural, all-natural, grass-fed, grass-finished, free-range, etc. - what does it all mean? Some like "organically certified" have an official definition, while many of the other "labels" are up to the producer to define. It gets confusing. If you buy from a local grower, you need to ask what they mean by their specific label. Does the steer, for example, originate at the ranch or do they buy them and finish them at the ranch, are the pastures fertilized and sprayed, etc. Ask if you can talk to previous customers, they'll tell you about their buying experience.

We at JX Ranch Natural Beef in New Mexico (www.leannaturalbeef.com) sell what we refer to as All-Natural Grass-fed and Dry-Aged Beef to individuals within New Mexico as well as in other States. Our definition is that we unconditionally guarantee that the beef you buy from us, is from an animal that was born, and raised, on our ranch, and has lived every day of its life on native pastures that have never been fertilized or sprayed with insecticides, and the animal has never ever been given any antibiotics, growth-hormones, animal bi-products, insecticides, or chemicals of any kind. They are grass-fed free-range from beginning to end. We also practice human animal handling, and believe strongly in avoiding stress to the animals as stress will negatively affect the meat. We manage our ranch using holistic range management practices. Our custom processor, which is a small family operated business only an hour from the ranch, take great care in dry-aging the meat for 21 days. We sell various 10 and 20 lb. beef packs, as well as whole, half and quarters of beef. We harvest our beeves at a younger age, which results in our beef being very lean yet tender and flavorful, without all the fat required of older animals. These are the things you, as a consumer, would want to find out before purchasing from a local producer. We have a "testimonials" page on our website where people can read what our customers have to say about our beef. Ask a lot of questions before buying! That's the best advice I can give you. Happy Eating, Mimi

By: gary suppe | May 27, 2010 01:27 PM | Permalink
Hello Dean. You are pretty much on the right on -buying local over store bought. However, you are somewhat confused projecting that buying local is organic--NOT TRUE_. We sell only certified U S D A organic ,Apples. Last year at our local farmers markets here in Utah inspectors have finally visited markets and warning venders claiming to sell ORGANIC. After being notified there is a government fine of $5,000.00 if they continue to use the symbol or claim ORGANIC. They may use the word natural. Certified organic requires intensive costs not only in labor but also some of which are , imputs that are only OMRI certified by the review institute, all paper work for water , soil , plant testing and inspections. Not to mention the fees for ORGANIC certification. Sure buying local is far better in many ways over store bought. However when purchasing remember , the highest assured standard is USDA CERTIFIED ORGANIC and must have a certified number.

By: | May 27, 2010 01:23 PM | Permalink
As the only vegetarian in my household, shopping is always a difficult adventure for me each week, since I am planning two meal options for every lunch or dinner. Of course, I ALWAYS choose the local farmers market or individual farm for all of my vegetable options, but buying organic meats from the supermarket or grass-fed meats from the local farmers market can be very expensive for my family.

Additionally, in the past year, I have become very concerned about what's IN the food that I am feeding to my family. I completely believe that "clean" food will keep my family healthy & strong & will also teach my children good eating habits. So, when shopping for non-farmed items, if it doesn't come in organic, there's a 50/50 chance I won't buy it. I will always consider, "do I really need this item?" or "what other ingredient can be substituted for this one & does it come in organic?" before committing to buy the alternative.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that I always buy local first, organic second, but definitely BOTH if it's an option!

By: Christine | May 27, 2010 01:07 PM | Permalink
I will buy fresh, local, organically-gown (yet not certified organic) produce from my friendly neighborhood farmer first. If supplies are limited, I turn to grocery stores carrying organic produce grown in the United States. If that fails, I go without until the next season change. Packaged foods and items from companies I do not know and trust need to be researched. The label may say organic, but if the raw products are sourced from a country without any real (or very lax) organic certification laws, I'd rather not waste my money. It's all about caring what you put into your body.

By: | May 27, 2010 01:04 PM | Permalink
Certainly IS a difficult decision. My first choice is to buy locally grown produce and locally harvested meats. If I know about the farm, I can be pretty much assured about pesticides, genetically modified seed, and fertilizers. Hate the thought of trucking unripe produce of unknown quality. But, the economics plays a big role. Hope that if more people join the local/organic buying trend, the farms can produce more, and prices can make it more available to more people.

By: Charles F Tutt | May 27, 2010 12:52 PM | Permalink
Small local growers face their own choices. For example: being government certified organic not only adds cost but is becoming more and more meaningless as large commercial producers influence and 'dilute' organic definitions.

As a one-person operation, there simply isn't enough of me to bother with all the bureaucratic filings, registrations, certifications, labeling, etc.. and still plant, grow, harvest and market my produce.

So I grow "all natural" using old-fashioned, organic methods and inputs and market to local restaurants and a small band of friends and neighbors who know and appreciate what I do. I simply don't bother to call it "organic" even though it really is..

By: Dean Sparks | May 27, 2010 12:34 PM | Permalink
How about BOTH? We recently launched a full line of organic dairy products in New York state from small family farms in the area.

Now, consumers can purchase local AND organic dairy items from a farmer owner and operated company.

Check out www.getnymilk.com to learn more.

Thanks, Dean Sparks Organic Farmer Greene, NY

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