Buying Local Should Include Buying Organic

locally grown food, organicA few years ago, most customers at farmers’ markets would ask how vegetables and herbs were grown. Customers were concerned about organic growing habits and pesticide use on farms, and inquired about the methods used to grow the produce they were purchasing.

Today, the question is asked more rarely. Consumer priorities and the main farm-production question that growers hear is related to place: "Where is your farm?"

Customers used to worry about how food was produced; now they worry about where it is from. The power of one captivating idea -- local -- has quickly eclipsed the power of another -- organic.

But the organic movement confronted industrial agriculture's use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers that devastated local ecosystems. It addressed the health of migrant farm workers and the health of people who ate foods with pesticide residues or milk with growth hormones.

The local-oriented movement may be avoiding engagement with many of the problems associated with the industrial food system that organic as a movement specifically sought to address.
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
Just when you thought it was safe to buy local -- and just as big-name supermarkets finally began to expand their local produce sections … now this!

It’s easy to become discouraged, but there is no need to be. The ground rules for healthy food shopping have never changed (and I’ll get into those shortly), only the labels have.

Why Organic Can be Better or Worse Than Local

A few years ago organic foods were all the rage, and you usually could count on an organic seal to be a fairly reliable indicator of a high-quality food. But recently attitudes toward organic foods have shifted, and this is a direct result of big business.

America’s largest corporations, eager to gain market share in the natural foods movement, have begun mass-producing “organic” foods, and as a result are slowly deteriorating the meaning and health benefits upon which the organic label was founded.

Hence the recent surge in the local food movement.

Buying local has been called the “new organic” because it’s intended to support many of the things that the organic label once did:
  • Fresher, tastier and healthier food
  • Supporting small, local farmers from your community
  • Knowing where your food comes from
  • Increasing food safety
But as the two authors of the above article (both small-farm workers themselves) suggest, buying local is not a perfect solution either.

The most glaring example is that food grown locally is not always organic. Though it may be grown just down the road, and sold at your local farmer’s market or vegetable stand, it may still be doused in pesticides, chemical fertilizers and tended to by workers who are paid unfair wages.

At the same time, the organic certification process established by the federal government is expensive, and some small farmers cannot afford it. This means that some locally grown foods are grown according to organic standards but are not “certified organic.”

The only way to know for sure is to confirm it with the farmer.

So just like with the organic label, the “local” label cannot be taken at face value. I still believe that farmer’s markets and community-supported agriculture programs are some of the best ways to purchase your food, but you need to do a little digging to make sure your food is safe -- even if it’s locally grown.

What to Look for When Shopping for Food

Whether you’re shopping at a supermarket or a farmer’s market, here are the signs of a high-quality, healthy food:

1. It’s grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers (organic foods fit this description, but so do some non-organic foods)

2. It’s not genetically modified

3. It contains no added growth hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs

4. It does not contain artificial anything, nor any preservatives

5. It is fresh (if you have to choose between wilted organic produce or fresh conventional produce, the latter may be the better option)

6. It did not come from a factory farm

7. It is grown with the laws of nature in mind (meaning animals are fed their native diets, not a mix of grains and animal byproducts, and have free-range access to the outdoors)

8. It is grown in a sustainable way (using minimal amounts of water, protecting the soil from burnout, and turning animal wastes into natural fertilizers instead of environmental pollutants)

If the food meets these criteria, it is most likely a good choice, regardless of whether it’s labeled local or organic.

The bottom line remains to look deeper than a label when it comes to your food. Most often, you will find foods that meet these high standards not at your local supermarket but from a sustainable agricultural group in your area.

The National Resources Defence Council (NDRC) also offers a great tool on their website that helps you determine what fruits and vegetables are in season, in your state.

+ Sources and References