Sunday, May 9, 2010

Local or Organic or ????

As yesterday dawned I was pretty sure that I had a direct path ahead of me. Buy more organics and buy more from the farmer's market. But through the course of the day it became apparent that my clarity had become a little cloudy.

Although I have been shopping at the Inwood Farmer's Market for a couple of years now and I have loved the high quality food, I had never actually asked the question 'Is your food organic?' I just naturally assumed that because these farmer's were pursuing the avenue of selling their fare at the farmer's market rather than contacting a supermarket distributor, that they must be organic. I also see all the folks from my neighborhood that I know from the CSA, and I know that they prize organic foods like I do. Surely the fact that other health minded folks I know shopped there, that MUST mean that everything was organic!

I have known for sometime about the USDA organic program. I know because of Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma, that family farms must pay a government certification company a lot of money to become certified organic, so they can stick that USDA ORGANIC logo on all their produce. Many family run farms simply do not make enough money to pay for the certification process, but their food is organic nonetheless. My CSA makes no effort to hide the fact that they fall into this category, and I always assumed that the folks at my farmer's market did too.

Well, I got to asking people. There were several stands that were obvious. Milk Thistle is labeled as organic, Bread Alone Breads too are labeled. The mill selling beans and flour are all labeled. The turkey however....the turkeys were not given hormones and antibiotics, but they did not eat organic feed. So they are not organic, even though theirs is a better practice than at most conventional animal farms. The apples are grown with both chemical fertilizers and pesticides. I have heard from my own CSA that growing fruits organically are especially challenging because there are so many other critters besides us that like fruit. Those buggies just get to it first. All of the vegetable stands sold veggies that were not sprayed with pesticides, but they all used chemical fertilizers. There was one exception, Hawthorne Valley Farm sells organic yogurts and breads and other delicious goodies. They are a not for profit biodynamic farm in Ghent, NY and they were selling organic salad mix. But that was it, no other veggies for sale. It was pricey, but I bought it.

So there I was at the market feeling a little lead astray. But not rightly so, none of these farms had ever lead me to believe that they were certified organic. None of them labeled their food with a misleading label. However I was blissfully happy to assume that they were organic when they weren't. But I didn't feel that I was left with much of a choice. I supposed I could have gone to my supermarket and bought all organic veggies that were trucked in from California. Those veggies would have been from upstanding but nonetheless factory farms like Earthbound farms who grow food in huge monocultures and manage to turn a huge profit. They are wonderful farms that started out small and grew through success. But I don't like that whole 3,000 mile trip that they make across country. Not only is it an amazing waste of gas, but I get fewer days to enjoy my food because it is older by the time it arrives in Manhattan. And the nutrients in food diminishes with each moment after it has been harvested. I have bought potatoes at the farmer's market that were in the ground 5 hours before I bought them (the farmer told me).

And furthermore, buying local means that my food dollar will stay within the economy of New York State. When I purchase a California grown carrot, my grocery store gets one chunk of my food dollar, a distributor or importer gets another chunk and that CA farm gets the last chunk. I am not sure whose chunks are big or little , but I know a thing or two about the wholesale industry, the profit is divided up amongst the people that connect your product to you.

Today I have decided that local is more important than organic. I was hoping that my choices would be more clear. I envisioned a big yellowish-maybe-slightly-orangish crooked carrot that had a pair of evil eyes that were red and swirling around. I would know NOT to buy that carrot because it was bad news. But the choices are not that easy. And it doesn't seem like anyone is talking about all this gray in the marketplace. They are just making black and white statements. Buy more of this and less of that. Eat this, and not that.

We all live in gray. I think the most important thing for each of us is to ask the questions and try and make your way though the cloud.

1 comment:

  1. I really like this post. Things are always complicated, but it's nice to at least be able to make informed decisions about the options, rather than just staying in the dark! Thanks, Christa.