I try my best to buy as close to the farm as I can. I frequent farmers markets, I buy meat from local sources and I always ask where the fish came from when I buy fresh. Do I do this 100% of the time? No, but I do attempt to make a conscious effort as much as I can.
Yesterday when I was doing the weekly shopping, I noticed that local turkey breast was on sale coming in at half off than its usual price. It sat right next to the organic birds and although this particular meat had no fancy label of being USDA Organic, it claimed to come directly from a farm not too far from my house, contain all natural ingredients, no hormones and no added byproducts. So which one is the better buy in terms of health and wellbeing? It's a question that many people ask over and over again, organic or local? The answer isn't exactly easy and one that is dependent on several factors. Let's break down a few of those:
Food Miles - Organic food is grown on farms committed to environmentally friendly agricultural methods. In order to label produce as organic, these farms must meet government standards. However, when organic food travels long distances to market — travel known as food miles – it creates pollution that sometimes outweighs the positive environmental effects of organic farming.
Produce labeled organic does not guarantee that it was grown locally. On average, produce in the United States travels anywhere from 1,300 to 2,000 miles from the farmer to the consumer.
Environmentally Friendly - Most people assume that buying organic food is better for their health and for the environment but that's not necessarily the case. Organic farming began as a community-based initiative and small organic farms catered to the local demand for organic food. However, the growing popularity of organics has led to the creation of what the agricultural industry calls Big Organics, which are industrial-sized operations, designed for high output. Produce is refrigerated and transported to local grocery stores.
Local Food Isn't Really "Organic"- Local food is not always organic because it doesn't always meet the government demands to call itself that. 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. Many local farmers actually encourage questions from customers.
Is Local Food Taking Away Job Opportunities?- Some critics argue that support local food buying is only taking away job opportunities for developing countries but in reality, food cooperatives generate local jobs, pay taxes back into the community and usually support local farmers and producers by selling their products.
So what is the answer? Well, it's really up to the consumer. Personally, I believe buying local is a more viable choice over buying organic in most cases. This issue was brought up at the press conference I attended during Farm Aid and I think John Mellencamp said it best. "The word organic is now owned by the government." Think about it, large money-hungry corporations are noticing the demand for a "natural" market and in turn, are finding a way to make a profit. Are they reaching out to local farmers to put their food sources on the shelves? Not likely. They are instead finding a way to shove money into the process of becoming certified organic, obtain a fancy label and call themselves "wholesome." There are pros and cons to both, but in the end, I always think it's better to support food coming as close to home as you can. It goes beyond just food. Think of it in terms of business. It's so easy to walk into a Starbucks as they put countless effort into their advertising to make you not even think about another option. I admit, I like Starbucks and I'm not going to stop going, but when there is an option to get a venti misto or the same drink from a local shop next door, I'm going to support the small business owner. Buy local, eat local, live local. Today we have a choice but tomorrow we may not. Power is in the hands of the consumer so if you want to keep fresh local foods readily available, it's crucial to make the right choice today.