Which is more important when choosing food for your family table, organic or local? The simplified answer is both, but it’s not always possible if you don’t grow it yourself.
Some foods, of course, don’t grow ‘locally.’ For me, that includes anything tropical; bananas and pineapples are two things I’d miss a lot if I went straight local. If you choose local as your driving force, there will be many items you’ll be doing without.
On the flip side, I live near one of the largest commercial asparagus farms in Canada. I know they’re not organic, but the farm is just over a mile from my house, and I can eat asparagus within hours of it being picked. If you’ve never had fresh asparagus, you’re missing awesome flavor. (Not only is it six weeks now until my novella releases, it’s six weeks until asparagus season!) I could choose to buy organic asparagus from far far away. Sometimes I think I should, but I just love the fresh, tender sprouts.
Pros of Organic
Better health for the farmer: not exposed to toxic sprays
Better health for the consumer: not ingesting pesticides
Better health for the environment: not draining toxins into the water and air
Pros of Local Food
Better health for the consumer: Fresher, more flavorful food, with vitamins intact
Better health for our community: Supporting local jobs
Better health for the environment: fewer trucks on the road
Here are 12 foods that are more contaminated than most: peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, grapes, spinach, lettuce, and potatoes. For these foods, it’s worthwhile making the effort to find organic foods. I can grow many of these in my own garden or buy them locally though cherries are hard to find organic, at least here.
Organic may mean that no herbicides and pesticides have been used, but that doesn’t automatically mean that the food or land is healthier. How so? Vegetables pull their vitamins and minerals from the soil, and if the soil isn’t rich in those items, neither are the veggies. Many large organic farms don’t rotate crops but instead use ‘acceptable’ additives. The best land health comes from carefully planned crop rotation.
Many chefs, food writers and politically minded eaters are outraged that “Big Organic” firms now use the same industrial-size farming and long-distance-shipping methods as conventional agribusiness. “Should I assume that I have a God-given right to access the entire earth’s bounty, however far away some of its produce is grown?” asks ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan in his 2002 memoir, Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods.
If you talk to your neighbors or local farmers at your farmers’ market, you may find plenty of variety close to home that is grown ‘naturally’ rather than organic. In many cases land owners who aren’t into mega-production grow food that is organic in all but name. They just haven’t jumped through the hoops to be certified. That’s the case on our farm. We’re not certified organic, but no toxic materials have been used on our land for decades. If we were selling at market, we couldn’t command organic pricing, but for all intents and purposes, it IS organic.