Conventional, local, or organic?

Fresh local produce will be hitting farmers markets and grocery store shelves soon, so here’s the question. What should I buy– conventional, local, or organic? There are a lot of mixed messages out there about organic and local, and farmers markets are springing up all over the place. When you’re give the choice of what to buy. . . for your health and for your wallet, choose wisely!

We all know that fruits and vegetables are good for us and that we should be eating more of them. But, not all fruits and vegetables are created equal.

There’s a lot of buzz about organics, and for good reason. Farmers MarketThere are thousands of rules and regulations that organic farmers must follow to receive the USDA Organic seal. Organic farming differs from conventional farming in many ways but the 4 most notable organic practices are as follows:
1. NO harmful pesticides/herbicides/synthetic fertilizers used
2. NO GMO (genetically modified organisms) crops
3. NO irradiation of produce
4. NOT on land treated with sewage sludge

While this list seems extreme, all of these practices are commonplace on conventional farms. There are over 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers sprayed on conventional crops per year in the U.S., many of which are endocrine disruptors, neurotoxins, and carcinogens. When you eat conventionally grown food, you are eating these chemical residues. Organic produce has far fewer pesticides and synthetic chemical residues. Due to crop rotations for natural pest and weed management, organic produce is more nutritious and often tastes better too.

What about local? Organic is great and there are a lot of advantages to organic farming, but. . .there are ENORMOUS factory organic farms in California and increasingly China. Would you rather get your food from your local farmers’ market or CSA (community supported agriculture). . . or China? I choose local. Even if your local farmers are not certified organic, there is a good chance that they practice many organic farming techniques. They may even meet all of the standards and can’t afford the certification– its expensive! In addition, there is less need for pesticides on fields that are diverse with many different crops such as on small farms. For fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables not shipped from thousands of miles away, choose local (and organic) if possible.

Where can you find local produce? There are two great options (and please note that your local supermarket is probably not the best place to find local and organic produce during the growing season):
1. Your local farmers’ market.
2. Join a CSA (community supported agriculture)– you pay an upfront or a monthly rate for produce and
pick up your share weekly. Its a win-win. Local farmers are guaranteed a living wage for producing
high-quality produce and you get a season’s supply of fresh local organic produce to enjoy.

So, what to do?

  • If given the choice, choose local and organic.
  • If choosing between local and organic from a factory farm, choose local.
  • If only conventionally produced produce is available, stay away from the “Dirty Dozen” and lean towards those fruits and vegetables on the “Clean 15” list
  • NOW is the time to join a CSA for the spring-summer-fall growing season. Check out Local Harvest to find a CSA farm or farmers’ market near you.

And one more thing, buying local will likely SAVE you money because it was NOT shipped thousands of miles to get to you, you buy directly from the farmer with no middle man, and the produce is abundant and in season which drives prices down.

Have a tip about buying local or organic produce? Have a favorite CSA or farmers market in your area? Please share by leaving your comment below.

Erin Harner

Erin Harner is an Integrative Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), author, and speaker based in Ithaca, NY. Erin melds functional medicine and culinary nutrition to help her clients uncover their unique diet and confidently cook healthy nourishing meals that meet the needs of their whole family. Learn about Erin's services and connect on Instagram.

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