Most of us have heard the phrase “shop small” — but what does that really mean anyways? Shopping “small” means not supporting big industry and big agriculture. There are many definitions for eating local that revolve around multiple factors such as: freshness, quality, politics, sustainability, geography, and economics. Geographically there is not very much agreement. Some definitions may suggest a 100-mile radius, but really there is no set-in-stone definition. For me personally, I refer to food grown in Louisiana as local food. Super local to me would be food grown in Baton Rouge because that is the city in which I live. But everyone can set their own parameters and standards as they wish.
Organic and local go hand-in-hand. Local food is a lot of the time organic, even when it is not labeled as such. Organic certification costs farmers a lot of money and time spent in paper work so a lot of them opt out, although a large majority still follow organic practices. You can always ask the farmers about whether or not they follow organic practices if it’s not labeled organic – most will welcome questions! I have done some research into whether or not we should care about whether our produce is organic or not – because it is all the buzz right now. There seems to be quite a few benefits to organic farming when compared to conventional. A few benefits include environmental, economic, social, health, and nutritional benefits.1
HEALTH & NUTRITION
You simply cannot find fresher food when you are buying local. Farmers usually have to harvest the day before, or the day of, to ensure quality produce for farmers market. Fresh is almost always best! Studies show that local food may be superior to non-local food as long as the food has not been stored for days/weeks before consumption.4 This is why it is important to attend your local farmers market or sign up for a CSA program – this way, you can ensure that you are consuming freshly harvested food.
Some health and nutrition benefits include: dietary diversity, less chemical residues, lower nitrate concentrations, lesser chance of farmers being exposed to chemical pesticides, higher mineral and anti-oxidant levels found in organic plant products, and lower amounts of heavy metals. The health benefits of organic products are the main reason for the increasing demand. As people are becoming a lot more aware of how food is produced, the more people are drawn to the transparency of organics.1
The environmental benefits include: protecting biodiversity, better quality of soil, water, air, and also energy efficiency.1 Environmental degradation is of concern to any farmer. The amazing thing about organic soil management practices is that they are capable of actually restoring degraded land and prevent further degradation.
Some of these restorative practices include low/no tillage, cover crop usage, mulching, and agroforestry.1As the earth’s population continues to rise, so does the need for food. However, the conventional practices that we have adopted are proving to become detrimental and no longer a sustainable option. Conventional farming contributes to global warming, air pollution, water contamination, and eutrophication, and biodiversity reduction.2 Soil is becoming depleted of vital nutrients. Carbon emissions continue to increase as large-scale animal agriculture tries to meet the demands of nations that are consuming far too much meat, eggs, and dairy. Organic farming is much kinder to our earth. It can be re-generative, sustainable, and more efficient. It protects nature, while conventional does mostly harm. Organic farming may even help to mitigate climate change.3 And climate change is arguably the one of the most important problems that we have at hand. Not to mention, organic farmers have better lives and increased food security.1
Energy balance and energy use-efficiency are very important factors to consider when comparing the effectiveness of organic versus conventional farming. Studies show that higher energy input is needed for conventional farming versus organic due to the use of mineral nitrogen and pesticides.2 Although organic production uses less energy, less yield is a result most of the time. Conventional practices have been specifically formulated to increase yields and they are extremely effective.
Another issue that comes up when considering the effectiveness of organic farming to conventional is: transportation. Large scale, conventional farms are indeed producing high yields and transporting extremely long-distances. One advantage to the small scale, organic farms is that they stay mostly local with sales and not much transportation is required. The connection between transportation and organic farming suggests that the environmental harm of transportation output associated with organic food production may be too negligible to outweigh the environmental benefits of organic farming.3
An economic benefit of organic farming is that the organic industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of the food market. The price premiums for organic food is another economic benefit. On top of that, farmers get 44-50% of the premiums which ensures that farmers are being properly compensated for their hard work.1 When buying directly from the farmers, your money goes directly into local economy vs. national/international markets.
I personally find the farmer’s market very affordable. I can always walk away with a big bundle of produce for no more (most of the time less!) than the amount that I would spend at any other grocery store.
SOCIAL & ETHICS
Some of the social benefits include: improvement of social capacity, increases in social capital, increase in employment, empowerment for woman farmers. Most people do not realize the social impacts of farming. The quality of life for farmers can be improved greatly when working on an organic farm versus conventional.1
When you buy from a small farm, you can rest assured that you are paying your farmer a fair wage. When you buy from big companies, you can never be sure as to how the workers who picked/processed your food was paid fairly. Big companies may not be paying farmers, line workers, factory workers fairly. There are still so many unethical practices happening in this world and we can vote for justice with our dollars. It is everyone’s responsibility to fight for these worker rights. Not to mention some of the terrible work conditions that workers may be exposed to.
WHERE TO SHOP:
- FARMERS MARKETS
- SIGN UP FOR A CSA
- WHOLE FOODS MARKET
- LOCAL PRODUCE MARKETS & GROCERY STORES
- MOM & POP/LOCALLY OWNED RESTURANTS
- FARM-TO-TABLE RESTURANTS
There are of course, some challenges with organic farming that include: the potential of lower yields, nutrient management, certification, market, and the need for more education and research.1 Low yields are mostly due to: insufficient nutrients in soil, limited options to enrich the soil, poor management of disease, pests, and weeds. Nutrient management can be tricky when growing organically. Crop rotation and cover crops are very important but cannot replace certain methods such as nitrogen fertilization. There are two different types of organic farming: certified production with premium prices which can lead to the bigger organic market, and non-certified which stay within local markets. Getting certified organic is very expensive and time consuming, so a lot of small scale farmers choose to just stay local with their sales. Another thing that could hinder organic farming success is market accessibility. Some farmers may live hours from the nearest market, and it may not even be worth it to travel so far. Plus, expensive equipment may be needed to transport the food. Education and research may not be widely available for farmers who are in developing areas, which creates another challenge. And while many argue that the world could not be fed by organically produced foods, there are many social, political, and economic factors playing into this regard.
No one should be suggesting that the whole world switch over to using only organic practices, as of right now. It would be extremely hard (and maybe not possible) to feed the entire world with only organic products. However, there definitely should be a shift towards growing mostly organics. Not only for the high demand, but also the future of the earth. One study states that a one percent increase in organic farming acreage could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 0.049%.3 If we continue on the path we are on currently, future generations are sure to run into major problems with food production. We cannot afford to continue depleting our soil and expecting it to magically replenish itself. Organic practices such as composting, low-till, and cover crops can all help to regenerate healthy soil. There has been a revolution on the horizon for the local/slow food movement for quite some time now. More and more people are choosing to shop at their local farmer’s markets and support small local businesses. If we can encourage people to eat as locally as possible and decrease the demands of conventional products – that could make a huge difference. Most people know now, that they can vote with their dollars. That being said, there is room for both conventional agriculture and organic agriculture. Arguably, both are very much needed in order to grow the amounts of food needed to sustain the people of earth. But as a consumer, it is our responsibility to tell the growers what we want. Let’s tell them that we want great health, environmental sustainability, fair pay for their work, economic growth on a local scale, and social empowerment – lets choose organic and local food.
Z Jouzi, H Azadi, F Taheri, K Zarafshani, K Gebrehiwot, S Passel, P Lebailly. “Organic Farming and Small-Scale Farmers: Main Opportunities and Challenges.” Ecological Economics132 (2017) 144–154.
H Lin, J Huber, G Gerl, K Hülsbergen. “Effects of changing farm management and farm structure on energy balance and energy-use efficiency—A case study of organic and conventional farming systems in southern Germany.” J. Agronomy.82 (2017) 242–253.
J Squalli, G Adamkiewicz. “Organic farming and greenhouse gas emissions: A longitudinal U.S. state-level study.” Journal of Cleaner Production. 192 (2018) 30-42.
Gareth Edwards-Jones. “Symposium on ‘Food supply and quality in a climate-changed world’ Does eating local food reduce the environmental impact of food production and enhance consumer health?” Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 69 (2010) 582–591