Locally Grown Vs Organic Produce – Different as Apples and Oranges

It’s almost certain that only a decade ago terms like “locavore” and “certified organic” weren’t even blips on your radar. I remember back when local markets were more of a way of life than the “cool” way to shop. But times change.  We now live in a society which is gradually becoming more health-conscious (reports of the growing obesity epidemic notwithstanding!).

With our growing health consciousness comes the debate between purchasing locally grown vs. organic foods.

Locally Grown vs Organic Produce – Know the Difference

Locally Grown Food

  • Local = supporting your community.  Many consumers feel that by patronizing local farmers (and businesses which use local produce), they’re keeping money flowing within their own area.  Their support may even help create jobs within the community.
  • Local = fresh, seasonal food, and it’s a key concern when it comes to buying produce. The “locally grown” label applies to food which has been grown and harvested within 150 miles of where it’s being sold – a big difference from, say, buying Florida oranges in Kansas.
  • Local = environmentally friendly during shipping.  Less distance between field and store/market means less pollution generated by commercial vehicles during the shipping process.
  • Local = help with allergies, at least if you’re talking about local honey.  The theory is that the bees making the honey carry the pollen from local flowers which are making you sneeze.  When you eat the honey, you build immunity to the pollen.

However…

  • Just because food is local doesn’t mean it’s organic.  Many newcomers to the locally grown vs. organic food debate aren’t aware of this.  You may buy local in order to avoid pouring money into the pockets of the big food industry, but the practices of local farmers don’t necessarily have to be good for you.
  • Just because food is local doesn’t mean it’s better for the environment.  Sure, there may be less smog in the air, but that doesn’t mean the local produce you just picked up at the health store was raised without the use of toxins which could be just as harmful.

Buying produce from a farmer’s market is a great way to put yourself in contact with the farmers.  It’s more likely that you’ll be able to ask about their growing practices than it would be to ask the head of a corporate farm.

Organic Foods

  • Organic = healthier for the environment during growth.  The government has strict standards when it comes to labeling a food “organic”.  You can be certain that organic food has been raised on a farm which is committed to environmentally-friendly methods of growth such as crop rotation and composting.
  • Organic = healthier for you.  There’s just something about knowing that the salad you’re currently digging into was produced without harmful synthetic substances and genetic modification, isn’t there?

However…

  • Just because food is organic doesn’t mean it’s better for the environment.  When you take into account the miles food may travel in order to reach its destination, and the pollution that travel generates, organic produce stops looking so environmentally friendly.
  • Just because food is organic doesn’t mean it’s very fresh.  Again, keep in mind the amount of time that may lapse between the produce being harvested and the moment it hits your table.
  • Just because food is organic doesn’t mean it’s helping “the little guy”.  This is another misconception held by newcomers to the organic food movement – that organic farming is done by a group of small farmers (though it used to be).  ”Big Organic” refers to industrial-sized farms producing crops in large volumes.

In the end, it’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons for yourself based upon your values and concerns.  Perhaps you can find a local farmer who raises organic produce – the best of both worlds!