Fresh City  Is it better to buy local conventionally raised food products or organically raised food products that have traveled 3,000 miles?

Local food is not necessarily organic, nor is it required to meet federal organic standards. However, many local farmers have environmental goals similar to those of organic farmers but don’t see the value in paying the government for a logo to prove they are harvesting healthy organic through sustainable farming methods. Because local farming is just that – local – you have the opportunity to ask farmers about agricultural practices or as I did actually go visit the farm! Many local farmers encourage questions from customers and love to share their passion for what they do.

Food grown locally is fresh and seasonal. If you’ve ever had a vegetable garden, you know that the best foods are the ones that don’t sit on a shelf waiting for you to eat them. Buying local food reduces the environmental costs associated with food miles and supports your community’s economy.

In order to produce certified organic crops, seeds and organisms cannot be genetically modified and produce cannot be treated with conventional synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Organic farmers must also use sustainable agricultural methods like crop rotation and composting to build and support healthy soil filled with nutrients for a three-year period. Once certified an organic farm you must renew your license annually after passing seed, soil and produce testing.

It’s still unclear whether certified organic produce actually produces higher vitamin-rich produce than non certified organic.


Is it better to buy local conventionally raised food products or organically raised food products that have traveled 3,000 miles?


Studies do show however that the food miles in refrigerated trucks and railcars do cause some nutrient loss during days-long trip. If temperature control is faulty, losses accelerate. Bruising damage, with subsequent decrease in nutrition quality, is likely when transported at high speeds on bumpy roads, the longer the trip, the more potential for damage.

While many consumers choose organic produce to be more eco-friendly, I found it’s better for both the environment and community to buy food that is locally grown. Big Organic industrial farms help deliver low-priced produce to a larger population, but the food is often shipped long distances before it reaches supermarkets. On the other hand, local produce is grown within a community and travels only short distances to reach consumers.

“Locavore”, the 2007 New Oxford American Dictionary Word of the Year, refers to a person whose diet focuses on foods grown and produced nearby, typically 100 miles.

The term reflects a growing trend of using locally grown ingredients, taking advantage of seasonally available foodstuffs that can be bought and prepared without the need for extra preservatives. The “locavore” movement encourages consumers to buy from farmers’ markets or even to grow or pick their own food.

One way to learn about local farming is to find out where to purchase fresh produce. Food movements like the 100-mile diet and slow food are helping to change the way we eat. The 100-mile diet encourages eating foods grown within only a 100-mile radius of where you live. Both organic and local foods have their pros and cons; there is no perfect choice. By being aware of where your food comes from and how it is grown, it’s easier to decide what type of products to buy.

Local food systems value a shorter distribution distance between grower/producer and consumer.

Common direct-to-consumer operations include:

• Farmers’ Markets

• Farmers’ markets are communal spaces in which multiple farmers gather to sell their farm products directly to consumers. Farmers’ markets may be municipally or privately managed and may be seasonal or year-round. Farmers may have to pay a vendor’s (or other similar) fee to participate, and must usually transport their own farm products to the farmers’ market site.

• Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) are direct-to-consumer programs in which consumers buy a “share” of a local farm’s projected harvest. Consumers are often required to pay for their share of the harvest up front; this arrangement distributes the risks and rewards of farming amongst both consumers and the farmer. CSA participants often pick up their CSA shares in a communal location, or the shares may be delivered directly to customers.

• A much smaller proportion of the direct-to-consumer market are options such as pick-your-own farms, on-site farm stands and stores, and gleaning programs, in which consumers are invited to harvest crops that are left in fields, usually after harvest.

• The Direct to Retail, Foodservice, and Institution Market. A growing component of local food systems are programs that provide farm products directly to retail, foodservice, and institutions. These types of programs cut out the (usually corporate) middlemen involved in storing, processing, and/or transporting food destined for grocery (and other retail) stores, restaurants, schools, hospitals, and other institutions. Direct to retail, foodservice, and institution programs may involve farmers delivering farm products directly to these establishments, or may rely upon a “food hub,” which is a centralized location where several farmers drop off their farm products for distribution amongst multiple establishments.

Before your next food purchase I encourage you to think about perhaps the less tangible, benefits of local food production that include reductions in air pollution, noise, congestion, paving, heat, and the removal of trees.

On the personal side, the benefits include, the social capital of conversations and other transactions between consumers and farmers, income that stays in the community, more physical activity if you’re farming yourself and last but certainly not least -food that is fresher and tastes better.

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