Organic vs. local
Comparing these “green” food-sourcing choices L e a H a nson
n an effort to become more locally based and self-reliant food consumers, more and more people seek organic food and many families are turning to local farm shares and farmers’ markets for as much food as they can. As a response to the growing demand for healthier and more responsibly produced food, two significant trends have emerged: the use of local ingredients and the use of organic ingredients. Families and restaurants alike are exploring both local and organic food options and questions remain over which is more cost-effective, healthy, sustainable, and more sensible. The term “organic” has fast become a buzzword in today’s American society and is often misunderstood and incorrectly used. Although both local and organic fall under the now-umbrella term “green,” the two food-sourcing strategies are actually quite different. Organic food is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and is heavily regulated regarding how the food is grown and processed. The definition of local food, on the other hand, is a little stickier and is not something that is regulated by the government. Local can mean anything from around the corner to across the state. Although there is much debate, most agree the rule of thumb adopted for local ingredients is that they come from within a 150-mile radius. One of the biggest problems for those who swear by locally grown/ raised food is supply. It is especially a problem for local ingredients, considering how difficult it can be to find specific ingredients in some regions and the volume of ingredients that are needed to supply several units. One of the biggest problems for those who swear buy organic food is environmental impact.
While the (properly used) term organic can guarantee the consumer a certain level of health and safety, it cannot guarantee the process in which the food arrives at the dinner table is healthy or safe for the environment. Values of local food vs. values of organic food At the end of the day, most families simply want to choose the right product. Deciding whether to buy organic or locally grown food is a personal choice based on health concerns as well as environmental and social responsibility. Organic is probably healthier In order to label produce as organic, these farms must meet government standards. Although the USDA makes no claim that organic food is more nutritious than conventional produce, the absence of synthetic, artificial, or genetically modified ingredients in organic food means it’s probably healthier because of what it lacks. However, when organic food travels long distances to market—travel known as food miles — it creates pollution that for some outweighs the positive environmental effects of organic farming in the first place. Local is probably more environmentally friendly On average, produce in the United States travels anywhere from 1,300 to 2,000 miles from the farmer to the consumer — a process that creates enormous amounts of greenhouse gasses and other pollution. Additionally, locally grown food is fresher. It’s simple: Food that arrives at your table in less time has
been picked or harvested more recently. Local food is not necessarily organic, nor is it required to meet federal organic standards. However, many local farmers have environmental goals similar to those of organic farmers. And because local farming is just that — local — consumers also have the opportunity to ask farmers about agricultural practices. Try for both If you’re buying food from local farmers’ markets or food co-ops, take the opportunity to ask growers and grocers about their operations and find out if they are growing or selling organically. At your grocery store, let the produce manager know if you’re interested in buying local organic vegetables. In northern Colorado, there are numerous options for community sustainable agriculture (CSA), farm shares, or joining a community garden. Don’t forget, planting your own garden and growing and preserving your crop is the most organic – and most local – option available to most.