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Buy Local or Organic?

Buy Local or Organic?

Allison Ford | Divine Caroline

Standing in the produce section, you hold up two seemingly identical peaches. One has an organic label, and one was grown at a farm only ten miles away. Which piece of fruit is better—for you and for the environment?

Modern conscientious eaters have a lengthy list of “food rules” to which they’re expected to adhere. No commercial meat. No fast food. No unsustainably farmed fish, nothing grown more than one hundred miles away, and nothing grown with chemicals. In a perfect world, we’d all tend our own organic produce and slaughter our own humanely raised meat, but in the real world, we have to make choices, and especially when it comes to produce, the choice sometimes comes down to buying local products or buying organic ones. Is one really better than the other? Given the choice, which should we purchase?

Fresh from the Farm
When you buy food from farms within your community, you’re supporting local businesses. But you’re not just supporting the farms themselves; you’re also supporting the local workers who do the planting and harvesting; the companies that provide equipment, seeds, and service; and the local markets that sell them. Small farms are more integrated into and invested in their communities than factory operations are, and patronizing them spreads the wealth around. Another big benefit to buying local is that it forces you to think in terms of growing seasons. Yes, that means you won’t get tomatoes during the winter, but eating seasonally is a good way to stay in tune with the natural rhythms of nature and become familiar with your region’s agriculture.

Buying locally also eliminates the need for farmers to pay to transport their products over long distances. According to the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, the average carrot travels 1,838 miles from farm to table, so local food both saves fuel and eliminates the need for expensive packagers and distributors who add to the final cost. Those savings for the farmer can translate into a substantial savings for the customer, too: according to the University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems, about 23 percent of the total fossil fuels used in food production are devoted to processing and packaging. When you buy local products, especially at a farmers’ market, the farmer is able to keep eighty to ninety cents of each dollar you spend—far higher than what he or she would earn for the same product bought in a supermarket hundreds of miles away.