A “certified organic” label shows that a product has met USDA guidelines for production under the National Organic Program. Typically, people understand that these guidelines mandate minimal chemical inputs (e.g. pesticides and inorganic fertilizers) and so demand for organic foods is usually driven by interest in personal health and access to nutritious and non-toxic foods. But there are many other reasons to buy locally produced organic products. By shopping for local foods, you are keeping money local, putting it into the pockets of your neighbors instead of distant, faceless corporations. You are also “paying” for cleaner water and air; decreased soil erosion and contamination from chemicals, pesticides, and antibiotics; and even enhancing benefits to wildlife.
True, organic products often cost 10 to 40% more than comparable conventionally produced products, and that can be a major deterrent to consumers shopping on a budget. Take it from a college student, I know. If only they made organic Ramen! However, sustainable agriculture seeks to connect growers and buyers and to educate people about production practices and challenges whereby they can come to understand and learn to appreciate the more realistic costs of organic foods. That is, how organic growers are actually investing in the community instead of merely profiting by passing on “unpriced” externalities in the form of environmental and social degradation.
Think about it. In the holistic sense of the word, how “organic” is produce shipped all the way from California or overseas? How sustainable is a production system that relies on such heavy energy expenditures to store and ship products over long distances? Each time an agricultural product changes hands, that’s one less cut that goes back into the farmers’ pockets. How does that system ensure that agriculturalists receive fair pay for all their hard work?
On the other hand, think about all the added benefits of the shopping at the farmers’ market. Consider the unique varieties of heirlooms offered- those oddly colored and strangely shaped fruits and vegetables you might be willing to try- and (fortunately!) friendly and knowledgeable people who can tell you what they are, how to cook them, and even recommend tried and true recipes. Here you can talk to the actual growers about quality of their products and the soundness of their land use practices. You can see the pride they take in offering something they’ve nurtured with their own two hands. “This relationship… between consumer and producer is what I feel is the heart of “organic” and this is what people need to be looking for. Not a label slapped on fancy packaging, but a producer they know and trust1.”
You’ve got a wallet full of ballots; where will you cast them?
“One very powerful tool to affect social change is our consumer dollar2.” How individuals spend their money actually says a lot about their values and priorities. A sustainable food production system desperately needs educated consumers, because each purchase you make affects us all. Educating yourself about your food purchases and the production methods that created them, a strategy called “green purchasing3,” enables you to make a difference.
“The easiest way to promote a sustainable lifestyle is by living your values. Sustainable purchasing is one way to demonstrate that value. In fact, getting others involved in your purchasing habits is a great way to spread awareness to friends, neighbors, and others in your community2.” What better reason to come on down to the farmers’ market?
So please consider whether these are worth paying more for when you make your shopping choices. If you believe health and prosperity are important not only to you, but to your friends and neighbors and food producers, then I encourage you to support your values with your money.
I encourage you to buy thoughtfully.
And I look forward to seeing you soon!
For more information, visit:
NOP Organic Labeling Standards
One More Reason to Vote With Your Dollar from Slow Food USA
10 Tips to Buying Organic on a Budget