Why Buy Local Over Organic

A couple of years ago, when we started making the switch to buying almost exclusively local and/or organic products, we asked the question - local or organic, which is better?  Invariably, the answer we've gotten and found has been "it depends."

Of course it depends, and it'd be great to buy all local, organic items, but if you have to choose I recommend local over organic.  The reality is that most of us consumers aren't going to have the time to look into every item we purchase every time, or spend substantially greater time and energy to find the perfect product, so it is helpful to have some black and white answers to questions that do not have a middle ground (as in, do I buy the local pickles that aren't organic or the organic pickles that aren't local).  I've decided (until I'm persuaded otherwise) that local should be the top priority for the following reasons:

  • A lot of local producers don't have organic certification, but their practices are just as good as (and in many cases better than) certified organic products.
  • Especially with the organic items you get from chain stores (though not exclusively, by any means), the mass production of those items is done by raising/growing the product as part of a monoculture that can do great damage to the soils and spread disease. 
  • If your organic items travel substantially to get to you, they are very often produced with such a large carbon footprint that it's arguable whether the benefit of the organic process is outweighed by the detriment of the journey.
  • I'm actually working on a longer post about this, but by buying local you are supporting our local economy (and God knows we need it).

There is a lot more that could be said about this topic, but my sense is that for a lot of people, having a quick, easy answer to a frequently asked question may be helpful.  We certainly do our best to learn more about our food than what is on the label - by talking to the vendor, the producer, visiting the source, and more - and we'd encourage you to do the same.  That is the only way to truly know that you are making the right choice.


kamalini said...

Hi Gavin,

We've just started the switchover ourselves. Your question is a good one. And I think I agree with your answer and your reasons. Many growers who are not 'certified organic' follow growing practices that are just as good. Also, Just the fuel savings of buying local makes the endeavor worthwhile. BTW, I asked at our local Kroger about stocking local produce. They informed me that they would be from next week, but Kroger's definition of local was a radius of 400 miles! Thanks.

JHuiz said...

I'm wondering where to buy local. I'm guessing that Findlay Market and other seasonal farmer's markets contain mostly local fare, but is there a consistent place to get good local food?

Gavin DeVore Leonard said...

Kamalini - thanks for the comment!

JHuiz - I'd highly recommend joining the Cincinnati Locavore Yahoo Group if you are interested in local food and where to get it. Just Google it and sign up. They've got a great database and continue to update info.

You also may want to get a CORV (Central Ohio River Valley) Guide - they cost $1 or you can find it online at http://www.eatlocalcorv.org/.

You're right that farmers' markets are one of the best options at this time of year. For the other months, you have to work a bit more to find sources for the things that you eat - meat is available, produce is hard to come by, etc. If there are specific things you're looking for, we're going to be posting a blog soon on where we get what we get that you may be interested in...

Anonymous said...

G- I buy organic because I don't want to feed pesticides and bio-engineered food to my 2 year old. If I buy local how do I know I won't be feeding him pesticides? I have the list of the "dirty dozen" and I try to stick to organic for those products.

Gavin DeVore Leonard said...

Anonymous - that's a good point. Some pesticides can still be used for on certified organic crops, but at least then there is a clear standard. It sounds like you've got a good system!