Which is more important – eating local or eating organic? Since moving to Missouri in the fall of 2012, I’ve grappled with this question quite a bit. In our previous home in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, it was fairly easy to fulfill both of these ideals – I could go to one of several natural food stores and purchase locally grown organic food, shop the Farmer’s Market, or grow my own food nearly year-round in a high tunnel.
Here in Northeast Missouri, the four-season climate makes for a spectacular late spring through early fall harvest. I grow a large garden and have connected with a local farmer who uses organic practices. Last fall I purchased large quantities of storage crops from him, such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, turnips, winter squash, and onions. I also did some canning and freezing of the summer’s bounty. These stores brought us well into December with delicious organic AND local food.
But when January arrived, the bulk of our produce had been eaten, and the “hunger months” began. Of course I could drive to my local grocery store and purchase food, but local food? Nope. Organic food? Well yes, but it was from either California or South America and the quality was not great.
I’m not a hard line purist, but I strive to source food from as close to my bioregion as possible. But sometimes buying local means that I’m buying food that has been treated with chemicals, which I really try to avoid.
A recent email conversation with a local blueberry u-Pick farm elucidates this problem. When I asked the farmer what his growing practices were, his reply was that he did not use pesticides at all, only began using fungicide this season when he could not control a stem blight with pruning alone, and did control weeds with glyphosate when mulch and hand-pulling were not adequate.
So, here is a farmer who tries to avoid chemicals, but opts to use them when the health of the plant or the conditions of patch necessitate. But, his berries are not “Organic.” I could go to the local grocery store and purchase “Organic” blueberries, but they would have been shipped from elsewhere in the country, packaged in plastic, and sold for several dollars per pound more. Furthermore, I do not have the opportunity to see the blueberry patch with my own eyes. I do not know how they are grown, who is picking them, and what their conditions are.
Which option should I choose?
In this case, I’m choosing local. When I go to the local blueberry farm, I see the berries with my own eyes, I pick them with my own hands, and I chat with the grower and his family. I feel a connection to his life, and he to mine, and together we form a tighter community network of food security. In fact, in a recent conversation, this very farmer offered to come out to my homestead to give advice on getting a blueberry patch growing.
Some day I hope not to have to choose between local and organic. I aim to be a part of a local community network of homesteaders and gardeners who can share surplus or trade produce. I’m passionate about supporting my local farmers AND I’m passionate about eating the most healthy and nutrient dense foods imaginable.
How do you decide which is more important, eating local or eating organic? Share in the comments below!