Organic vs. Local

July 15, 2010 at 8:10 pm 4 comments

Often at the grocery store I am standing in the produce section and wondering:  Which is better:  Organic produce or local produce?   Buying organic produce is important to me, but so is buying locally.  Here are some facts and you make the decision for yourself.

We all know that “organic” is a federally regulated term for the way an agricultural product is produced.  Organic farmers do not use pesticides or herbicides.  They use other methods to control pests and weeds and are mindful about nourishing the soil instead of depleting it through abusive growing practices.  They feed the soil by methods such as crop rotation and using mulch or manure.  They may control weeds by hand weeding and use beneficial insects and birds or traps to get rid of unwanted pests.  The end result is soil and water conservation and an overall healthier environment free of dangerous chemicals.  It also means that your food is not covered in pesticide residue.  Unfortunately, these methods of growing food is not cheap.  Thus, the higher price for these products. informs us that only 0.5% of crop and pastureland is organic, according to the USDA.  This means that 99.5% of farm acres are chemically-laden.

Using organic farming methods does not necessarily mean a more nutrient-dense or tastier product.   Some research shows that foods are indeed sweeter but others disagree.  Organic farming also includes preserving heirloom seeds so that plant diversity is maintained.

Local produce is  fresher.  Local produce, especially when purchased at a neighborhood farmer’s market, has usually just been picked. Produce grown in far away places, such as Chile, were probably picked before it was ripe, then shipped thousands of miles where it sits under fluorescent lights in your grocery store.  Light, temperature and time is the enemy of many vitamins.  All the various forms of transportation used to bring food to your grocery store is expensive, uses valuable oil, and leaves behind a lot of pollution.  By buying local, you are also supporting local farmers and helping to keep them in business.  An option for buying local produce is to buy a share of a local farm’s bounty through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).  To get more information and find a CSA near you, go to the Local Harvest website.

The Environmental Working Group has published a Food Guide that lists the safest and most dangerous foods to eat according to the pesticides remaining on the produce.   You can download the list from their website.  The Dirty Dozen list contains the foods with the most pesticides.  These are probably the foods where you might choose to buy organic over local if you must choose one over the other.  They are (from worst to least):







Bell Peppers



Kale/Collard Greens


Grapes (imported)

The Clean 15, or the top 15 foods that are the lowest in pesticides are:



Sweet Corn



Sweet Peas








Sweet Potato

Honeydew melon

These foods are safer to eat when conventionally grown so buying local would be ideal.


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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lindsay  |  July 16, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Great list! I’ll be printing this out!

  • 3. Julia Reis  |  July 18, 2010 at 7:52 am

    Marcia! I truly miss our days in Clayton/Concord and I miss our friendship group! But now for a VERY long time I have been in Central WA where it is very hard to find anything! I just discovered your blog…and it makes me happy! You have always inspired me and even though where I live makes it harder to eat “fresh”, we try and it IS getting better here as more and more people realize that health trumps how cheap something is (though this town still has a long ways to go…)

    • 4. Marcia Nelson, (getting my) RD  |  July 18, 2010 at 1:56 pm

      Julia, Thank you for reading the blog! Our town started a Farmer’s Market 2 years ago and every year it gets better and better. Unfortunately, the growing season is so short in New England that locally grown food is only available a few months out of the year. But, Barbara Kingsolver, the author of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, proved that you can eat local food in New England 12 months out of the year. I think it requires a lot of canning in the summer (not going to happen! I did it 10 years ago but don’t care to do it anymore!) but it IS possible. So, I guess we just look for progress! Are there any CSA’s in your area? Thanks for your interest! I love your Facebook posts!


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