Whole Foods Lifestyle - Local vs. organic

View Full Version : Local vs. organic

08-10-2009, 08:57 PM
If you could only pick one, which is better?

I am part of a CSA that is local and organic, but not that thrilled about what I'm getting and still end up at the store for the most of my stuff.

I saw a huge stand in my grocery store today that was filled with local -- or at least stuff grown in the same province as me -- food. But nothing about it being organic.

I've been wondering whether it's better to be buying close to home or to buy food that's travelled, but is organic. Seems silly to buy local if it's still full of chemicals.

What do you think?

08-10-2009, 10:09 PM
For me, no question - local - with the caveat that "local" means, to me, smaller farms that aren't shipping nationally (I live in an area where any amount of nationally sold, conventional produce could be considered "local" for me, but I don't consider it "local"...for me, I go for small local farms, rather than big commercial/corporate farms, whether they are near to me geographically or far away). Basically, this means getting my produce at local farm stands and farmers markets whenever possible.

For one thing, excluding non-organic produce cuts out a lot of farms that use sustainable business and farming practices, but that can't afford the high costs of organic certifications. The smaller the farm, the less likely that farm will be able to afford to get certified as organic, no matter how few pesticides they use or how sustainable they are. For another, local farmers, in my experience, tend to take better care of the land and use more sustainable practices.

Consider "commercial organics", the big, multi-national companies that are producing huge percentages of the organic produce available in stores. They are following the organic regulations to the letter, and they have plenty of money to get certified. But they definitely are NOT acting in the original spirit (for lack of a better word) of the organic movement...not acting as stewards of the land, not focusing on sustainability, just using as much of the organic-permitted chemicals and amendments as they need to get yields close to organic fields without losing their organic certifications. Honestly, I don't know that THAT food is any better for me than conventional...same farming methods, different chemicals.

Plus, added bonus, locally grown produce almost always tastes better than produce shipped across the country or from across the world. Not to mention the reduced fossil fuels burned to get it to me. And local farms tend also to focus on different varieties of the same plants (heirloom tomatoes, different kinds of apples, different peppers, different different different), and it's that increase in biodiversity that will protect us from having all of our food sources wiped out if a new parasite/virus/pest appears that threatens the widely grown commercial varieties (75% of the world's food supply is provided by only 12 species of plants. Between me and my neighbor, we have more species of TOMATOES than that).

There was a great article about this in Time magazine:

08-10-2009, 10:14 PM
A lot of our local farms are organic but don't have enough money to pay for the organic label. It really depends though because some say they use pesticides only as a last resort and some say they use none at all.

08-10-2009, 10:58 PM
Yeah, what Mandalinn said. :)

I prefer locally grown because of the fact that organic tomatoes can be shipped in from China and I'd rather have a conventionally grown local tomato. "Organic" can be a pretty meaningless designation.

08-11-2009, 07:58 AM
I agree that local in our area is superior to the certified organic produce. We live in a decent size city (about 40,000 peple in the city limits, and another 45000 in the surrounding areas - calling them suburbs is a bit silly because the city proper has more of a suburban feel than urban). The certified organic farms in the area are relatively small-scale AND local, but the prices are double that of local famers who aren't certified.

We're very lucky to have a large Hmong (Southeast asian) population, and I gravitate towards those vendors for a variety of reasons. Their prices are the most reasonable, they tend to (as a group) grow a wider variety of produce (and are more likely to gravitate towards beautiful, colorful varieties), and have a more eco-friendly farming tradition. Those that are using traditional farming methods don't rely on pesticides and chemical fertilizers because it's not part of their tradition. They also use every part of the plant that is edible (not only squash, but the squash leaves and flowers, not only peas, snap peas ans snow peas, but the tender shoots and leaves of the plant as well, called pea tendrils in french and gourmet cooking). They sell everything (because they eat everything). Some unusual items we've become very fond of are the pea tendrils and tiny potatoes. The potatoes are waxy potatoes (red or yukon gold) that are harvested at a very tiny size, pea to grape sized. Very yummy (and lower GI than mature potatoes).

My absolute favorite vendor is a three-generation Hmong family farm. The grandparents are so sweet, and we prefer dealing with them, even though their english is the most accented, and often we resort to pantomiming to communicate. They have the largest variety for such a small family farm. Every year they plant new varieties, so it's fun to see what's new. Their "specialty" is peppers (bell and hot) and asian eggplant of assorted colors. They sell a lot of other produce, but the peppers and eggplants always stand out, because they're so many colors - and every year, it seems they add new ones.

I think I love their stand so much (not only because they're very nice to us, and are always throwing in free stuff, like an extra portion of what I asked for, or new stuff to try) because you can tell they're farming the old-style way - growing virtually ALL of the produce their family needs, and selling the extra. They grow what they like to eat, so flavor and freshness is extremely important, and it shows.

My husband has grown very fond of the family's grandpa. We've never heard him say more than a couple words in the five years we've been shopping from them, but this year he and hubby really hit it off. He will tell David how and when the plants need to be harvested (the pea tendrils "have to be picked very early in the morning). His english is actually very good, but he speaks so quietly and heavily accented that I think he's not comfortable speaking english until he knows the person well enough to get over the self-consciousness (and on the other hand, he may just be like my own grandad was. He never had much to say unless he really liked a person).

Last visit to the market, I spent more than a half hour talking with a lady who raised alpaca and was selling alpaca yarn, wool roving and items made from the wool as well as manure (Funny, because she had a huge earthenware bowl filled with large gray cylindrical pellets. It resembled potpourrie, but turned out to be alpaca poo).

The alpaca stuffed animals, made from alpaca wool were so soft and adorable (if I could have justified spending $40 for a toy for myself, I would have bought him). I almost bought him for our youngest nephew (only a year old), but realized what a disaster that would have been. The lady also had photo cubes of all of her alpacas with the alpaca's name written on each one. In regard to thewool and items made from the wool, in many cases, you could tell (or she would tell you) which alpaca the wool had come from, and she'd tell a little bit about the personality of the animal. I was sorely tempted to buy a very expensive hank of yarn, because her stories of the animal's shenanigans was so compelling (I probably will eventually succumb to my yarn addiction, especially as weather cools).

WOW, have I gone far afield - but that's WHY I like local farmers. You can really get to know the people (and sometimes the animals) behind the food and products.

08-11-2009, 08:39 AM
Personally...I would LOVE to buy just organic, but with local produce and such around at the prices and the fact that there is a level of "organic" anyhow, I just buy from the local farm stands and markets. I avoid the supermarkets as much as I can anyhow, so buying produce comes down to cost efficiency mostly. Sometimes I get lucky and find something organic and lovely, other times I don't.

The farm stand we go to, I do like that they know us, like us, and want us there. They are always friendly and saying hello and asking us how we are, so I like that, which is a nice plus. They are just really good folk and yes they do probably use pesticides to some degree, but it is a fact of life right now so I don't mind. I would love organic, but with the cost and such...can't do it.

08-11-2009, 08:57 AM
The good thing about buying local, is once you get on friendly terms with your vendors, you can ASK what they use for pesticides and fertilizer (there's no guarantee that they'll tell you or tell you the truth, but that's true of certified organic farmers as well).

08-11-2009, 09:04 AM
If my cucumbers I buy don't have that scary wax crap on it, then I'm all set! lol

That is usually my standard when things are in season.

08-11-2009, 02:48 PM
Thanks for the feedback ladies.

And Mandalinn, that was a great read -- thanks for the link.

09-03-2009, 08:22 PM
I've always steered clear of local because I thought it was full of pesticides. I'm glad to know that it's probably not the case. There's a farmer's market not far from where I live. I will check it out before the season is over. Hopefully the fruits and veggies are not laden with chemicals.

Thanks for the great info!