Lively and relevant information on sustainable living from a variety of contributors.
Responding to your thoughtful comments
This week I had planned on waxing poetic about my little victory garden. The Brandywine and Mr. Stripey tomatoes whose arrival I’m anxiously awaiting, the sweet peas that are eagerly climbing up their stakes and it looks as if this year there will be cantaloupe. But after seeing how last week’s post (Are you Local or Organic?), on my declaration of choosing local over organic in most purchasing situations generated a bit of talk I decided to answer those who responded to my previous post.
So let’s start with TreeMama who had this to say:
I find it impossible to be 100% organic anyway, so like you said, I weigh the options of most heavily polluted foods and get whatever I can here locally.
TreeMama, I couldn’t have said it better myself and that was exactly the premise of my post. It is pretty difficult trying to be 100% organic especially if you live in an area where organic food isn’t always readily available but when given the choice I will always choose local first.
Next up was Ed Bruske, The Slow Cook (I love your website, loads of great information), and this was his response:
We don’t go out of our way looking for tomatoes in January (in the District of Columbia), but we’ve had some off-season, hot house tomatoes that were pretty darned good. Someone is getting better at breeding and raising them. And does local mean only “seasonal?” What if the hot house tomatoes are being grown in your neighborhood and are really good? And in temperate areas where the normal growing season ends in September or October, if everyone goes local won’t they necessarily need to grow things in hothouses?
Ed, I have no doubt that the flavor and quality of hothouse tomatoes is improving, clearly there is a demand for fresh tomatoes year round and someone is trying to answer the call by making them as close in taste to seasonal ones as possible. Local obviously doesn’t mean seasonal but most local produce that is readily available to me is seasonal and it’s my personal belief that everything tastes better when it’s grown during its “true” season, regardless of whether it’s local or organic. I live in New Jersey so I have a real thing for tomatoes and to me there’s nothing like pulling one off the vine in the middle of July. Hothouses will only be needed if people chose to try and grow things outside of the normal growing seasons for their area.
And finally my most impressive comment to date comes from the Organic Trade Association…talk about keeping me on my toes. This was their comment:
Thank you for this thoughtful article. The Organic Trade Association would like to offer a different perspective on the issue of local vs. organic. In fact, local and organic are not in competition with one another. On the contrary, they embrace many of the same values. They both emphasize support for the farmers involved in food production. And they both encourage people to consider the environmental impacts of their purchasing decisions. Plus, as more and more local farms make the shift to organic, the choice between local and organic disappears: to buy one is to support and reap the benefits of both.
What should you do, then, if you are in the grocery store and the option to purchase locally grown, organic products does not exist? Which type of product should you choose?
When faced with such a choice, consider the following: organic offers a range of benefits that non-organic local products do not. Because they are regulated by the federal government, products bearing the organic label must meet a strict set of production/handling guidelines. They must be made without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and genetic engineering. Additionally, they must not undergo irradiation or contain ingredients made from cloned animals. Local products are not held to any such standards, and therefore cannot be counted on to meet any of the aforementioned criteria. And, because the term “local” is itself undefined, no guarantees can be made about whether a product is, indeed, local!
Organic products are also distinct with respect to traceability. In order to meet federal regulations, careful records must be kept about every phase of organic production. This means that everything from the source of the seeds to the way the products are placed on store shelves must be documented. Moreover, each of these steps must be verifiable by a third party. Local products, by contrast, are neither required to provide such documentation nor to undergo third-party review. As such, no guarantees can be made about where local products come from or how they are handled.
Does this mean you should abandon buying locally made products? Not at all. Instead, it means you should be thoughtful about the local products you choose to buy. If they are labeled organic, you can feel confident that they have been produced in a manner that not only supports personal and environmental health, but also helps to ensure product integrity from the farm to your family.
I do realize that local and organic are not in competition with one another although sometimes it can certainly seem that way. And I do sincerely hope that more local farmers are able to become certified organic just so that gap and confusion between the two choices can close. I will not deny the health benefits that organic foods can have and as I stated in the first post more often than not local farmers practice sustainable/organic farming methods so their food is equally healthful. As far as federal regulations, documentation, and third party reviews it is my understanding that the steps needed to become certified organic are quite costly and for a local farmer who’s trying to make ends meet that’s not always a viable option. In my opinion we just need to get back to basics and for me that means supporting my local agriculture. I’d rather buy free range farm fresh eggs from the guy 20 minutes away versus buying the supermarket free range eggs that were shipped from 200 miles away. It just makes more sense. And when talking about distance that whole carbon footprint and emissions topic always pops up but that’s a conversation for another day. Bottom line I always encourage friends and family to talk to their local farmers, find out the farming methods and ask why if relevant they choose to use pesticides/herbicides but ultimately they need to make the choice that’s right for them. I’m not delusional when it comes to the whole seasonal, local, thing. I realize that things like Bananas, lemons, limes will never be seasonal or local in the state of New Jersey and if my 3 year old wants a banana in January well then by all means she’s gonna get one. For me its seasonal first, local, and then organic and since I have no idea when Bananas are in season and they are the farthest thing from local then by all means it will be organic.
I know there’s more opinions out there so let em rip.
Next Time: I’m taking the show on the road through the local political process to try and bring a community farmer’s market to my town. I’ve already spoken with the New Jersey State Department of Agriculture, and my next step is getting a meeting with the mayor and the city council members. Through the next upcoming posts, I will document these efforts, and share my results. Wish me luck!
Heather Jones is a wife, mother, freelance food writer, and graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. She has worked for Gourmet Magazine, TV Personality Katie Brown, and the New York based Indian-fusion restaurant Tabla. Heather resides in New Jersey with her husband and two daughters. She is a strong supporter of the Sustainable Food Movement and believes that education is the key to making a difference.