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I've been blogging over at Our Sleeping Flowers these days. Still me, and still delicious, come join me!


a summer cabbage from a local farmer

I love to support local businesses. In our cooking class, Melissa and I use local foods as much as we can not only because we love that it builds and unifies our community, but in many cases the foods tend to taste better too. I am also a firm believer about eating foods grown without the use of unnatural means, not just organic, but chemical free. In both cases, I want to do what is right, for me, for my family, for optimum health, my community, the earth.

There is a question that is by no means a new question, and maybe you have even thought about it yourself. Maybe you're even rolling your eyes at my mentioning of it at all. which is more important? organic or local?


Local food is food that has been grown by a farmer within your state, or in some cases your very town. It can include a radius from 1 mile to 150 or more. The food that is grown locally may or may not be grown conventionally, it might be "organic", and it's a possibility that it could be "more than organic". The best part about local growers is that you can actual go to the farm, talk face to face with the person growing your food, and in some cases even help with the growing yourself. The growers more than likely have all the answers to your never ending questions.

Organic food has supposedly been grown, meeting certain USDA regulations; without the use of synthetic pesticides, no GMO's (don't know what a GMO is? this should help), and without petroleum or sewage sludge based fertilizers, to name a few. Organic meats are required to have access to the outdoors (not necessarily pastured), and fed organic feed.

However, if you have ever talked to a local farmer who has undergone an organic certification, you may find that the certified little green sticker means less than you think. Regulators seem to be unconcerned about whether or not synthetics are actually used, the fees for the certification are ridiculously expensive, and there are some "organic" pesticides that are more deadly than the synthetic versions, ever heard of cyanide? Organic foods also have to be shipped from where they grow, so there is a high probability that the foods are harvested premature and have traveled via fossil fuel to get to where you are. However if you are giving the USDA the benefit of the doubt, it is probably cleaner than its conventionally grown counterpart that traveled just as far, right?

Obviously the ideal situation is to have a local farmer that even though they mightn't be organic certified, farms in a way that creates vitality and life in the soil and food they grow. Not to mention the communities they nourish. Lucky for Utah Valley, we have more than one of those types of farmers.

But if you don't, what do you do? Buy local and support farmers that are also your neighbors but who might be using synthetics? Or buy food that is hopefully cleaner than the foods grown by conventional means but have traveled a number of miles and used up even more natural and nonrenewable resources? We all want to do the right thing, but what is the right thing to do?

There was a wonderful article on this issue by Samuel Fromartz (author of organic, inc.) back in april, 2006 - read it here. He said that ultimately there is no right or wrong when it comes to local or organic, but rather that you are consciously choosing. For us, it's on an individual food basis, I may be in love with raw milk from a farm just south of us (not that we use it now...), and when it comes to tomatoes, I think you know where I shop; but I also buy mangoes shipped from even farther south, and the best darn asian treats from the other side of the world.

What do you think? Do you shop local? organic? better than organic? conventional? maybe you didn't even know there was a difference? or you've never thought about it before.

I would love to hear your opinion.

p.s. here's another article with insight on whether local +/or organic are even sustainable. 

afterthoughts:
i updated the post to add a link to the non-gmo shopping guide.
lisa mentioned the clean 15 and dirty dozen.
thank you to everyone who has added their voice, i am loving all the dialogue and experiences. I think this is the beginning of a number of food thoughts for us to discuss, hope you keep playing along.


9 Comments

  1. I need to be more conscious when it comes to buying our food. I'm definitely a conventional gal! But we are taking baby steps and I am buying organic more often than I used to. And come summer we will do some sort of co-op for fruits and veggies. We're getting there!

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  2. I debate this in my head all the time! Local vs organic sometimes drives me crazy. Here's what I've come to- I first get to know my growers and what their growing practices are. Like you said, that little sticker doesn't mean everything. Then I factor in what produce contains the most pesticides- if you buy at least the top 12 organic, you are significantly reducing your exposure. So I buy the top 12 at least organic (or the farmers market equivalent) and then the rest local. That way I feel like I am supporting local, but also protecting me and my family from exposure to unwanted things. Just my two cents! Here's a link to the 'Dirty Dozen Vegetable' list.

    http://lowcarbdiets.about.com/od/nutrition/a/pesticides.htm

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  3. It's tough. Ultimately, for us right now, it's price and availability. If I can get organic produce at a reasonable price more easily than local (we live in a huge metropolitan area and honestly, farmer's markets aren't great here) then I buy organic. I try to buy the dirty dozen organic as much as I can but recently I made the choice over locally grown bell peppers vs. organic bell peppers from another country. I figured it would be better to do local and risk the exposure to toxins. It's a continuous debate in my head!! Kind of annoying but you're right, at least I'm being conscientious!

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  4. Great article. You are grand. :)

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  5. Organic. Something I care very little about in fruits and vegetables. Maybe because I haven't done any research on pesticides. Sure, enormous apples are a little weird. But with how many apples my children eat a week, I bottom-line can't afford to buy organic. There are certain shelf items I buy organic because they just taste better. But in all actuality, I don't buy a lot of shelf stuff.

    As for local, I like the idea of supporting the people around us. But it isn't going to stop me from exposing my children to as many foods as I can. I would like to think there is great value in having children acquire tastes for salmon, lobster, shrimp, pineapple, kiwis and other things obviously not grown or raised anywhere near here.

    Being an avid cook, I run into a lot of people who like to eat and cook as well. And for the most part (NOT INCLUDING YOU), the people that eat local and/or organic seem to do so just so they can say they do. They don't seem to have convictions. They don't seem to be armed with knowledge that would solidify their choices. They are jumping on a trend train. And I find it obnoxious. I have a hard time with people like that. And unfortunately, the way these people are seems to form a stereotype about local and organic.

    One last thing (and then I will shut up), a lot of annoying people that are all about local/organic and seem to frown upon others for not being so- they interestingly don't have older children with large appetites. And guess what, those little hungry mouths are quite expensive to feed. And organic and local are pricey.

    *I want to be very clear that I am not in any way referring to you when I talk about how some local/organic promoters are.

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  6. Oh where to start......

    "Organic" and "local" are something we've really picked up on in the last year and a half. I even hate to admit it sometimes, because, like Whitney mentioned, it's really trendy right now, and it kind of gets annoying. But we jumped on the wagon when I had two doctors look me straight in the eye, and tell me I needed to be on as all natural and organic diet as I can be. I have Lyme Disease, which is auto-immune, so my body basically attacks itself....it doesn't need a bunch of unrecognized chemical residue, fillers, and preservatives floating around in there as well. I have read and read, talked with my Docs, and researched some more, and we now do our best trying to eat a healthy, balanced, whole food diet--not always organic, not always local, but a good combination of everything.

    Local is extremely easy to do in the summer and early fall in Utah. For starters, we have a garden (bonus points for organic AND as local as you can get), which provides us with amazing veggies and saves us a ton of cash. I live at the farmers market, and will buy a fresh Utah peach that isn't "organic" over an organic store bought peach any day. It tastes a 100x better and the nutritional content trumps the store bought.

    My biggest concern about meat/chicken is the antibiotics and hormones. To buy meat and chicken without these adds up quickly, so while we strive to eat less, if I see a sale on good, real meat that isn't full of crap, I'm going to buy it, whether local or not. I love to support the local famers when I can, but I also like to put good food on the table for my family.

    As far as organic cereals, crackers, and everything in the center aisles....I buy some of them. Not because I care that my oats and wheat were grown organically, but because these items don't have the fillers and preservatives that their non-organic counterparts do.

    I agree with Whitney in the fact that too many people are uneducated about it, and do it just to be "green", and then look down their nose at me because I buy my free range chicken and it came from out of state.

    So for me, it all comes down to eating real food. Probably could have said that quicker:)

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  7. Can you let us know about some of the local, Utah Valley farms? I'd love to try them out!

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  8. Local!!! Not because of health, but because it will likely taste better. :) I think it is so great there are community farms out there so people without space or opportunity can have access to home grown.

    Our "farm" is my parents' garden of nearly an acre. Lots of work, but it is just so much better. I discovered this last summer that sometimes you just have to use pesticides. We have a little plot by our apartment that we had to replant three to four time because the sprouts kept getting eaten. Ugh.

    For the stuff you have to buy. I will agree that is probably better for you to buy organic if you can, but when the option is fewer veggies that are organic or more and greater variety of regular veggies, I am going to buy the greater quantity veggies that fits in the budget regardless of the label.

    Mostly, I just try to eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as I can, and make every effort to reach for the grapefruit instead of the ice cream. :)

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  9. Such a debate!! It's been fun to read everyone's replies on this.

    Here's an interesting thought: A friend of mine and I spent the summer buying local and found we were there twice a week because the local fruit and vegetables was fresher. If you didn't buy it more frequently, it would spoil--money lost.

    However, when we buy organic or even certain conventional fruits or vegetables, I only have to buy once a week. And often I can buy these on specials, or at a discounted rate when the store puts them on sale. Can't do that at a local market.

    However, I will try to support local when I can. My neighbors own a large local farm and I love the taste of fresh fruit and vegetables.

    So for us, it depends on the season and the price. But you can buy organic and local and have it fit into your budget.

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