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.