Local or Organic: Which to Choose?

When we can find local, organic produce for sale, it’s great – you’re supporting local farmers while at the same time supporting the environment through pesticide-free farming. However, what should we do when local organics aren’t available? Is it better to buy local non-organic produce, or buy organic food from elsewhere and miss out on supporting local farms? This an enduringly tricky decision to make, and it’s one we hope to help you answer in this post.

Benefits and Downfalls

Organic food, in theory, is produce that’s grown according to strict environmentally-friendly guidelines. To be organic, a product must not be produced using excluded methods like genetic modification, must not be treated with any prohibited substances, and needs to be certified by the USDA. Through this process, much less damage is typically done to the environment. The farm and crops are usually spared from pesticide treatment, for example. However, as a direct result of this, certified-organic crops can be more susceptible to disease, infestation, and other growth issues. This is why organic products are so much more expensive than their non-organic counterparts – more product is lost during the production process, so the remainder must be sold for more in order to recoup the loss.

Locally-grown food, on the other hand, does not necessarily need to be organic. Occasionally, you can find local organics for sale, but these fall prey to the same issues as other organic produce. Assuming for argument’s sake that our locally-grown produce is non-organic, this means that it’s less susceptible to crop loss as a general rule. However, untold environmental damage can sometimes be done through the use of pesticides, and many people prefer to avoid genetically modified foods in this day and age.

If the locally-grown food is grown on a small farm, the chances that it might be genetically modified or heavily treated is much lower. In addition, according to the USDA, organic farmers that sell less than five-thousand dollars in produce annually can claim organic products without receiving USDA certification. Often, buyers welcome the opportunity to make decisions based on eco-conscious factors, so shopping at local farms is deemed to be their preference over a visit to the supermarket.

The Verdict?

Unfortunately, as lovely as organic farming sounds in theory, the environmental benefits provided by the discontinuation of pesticide use is often counterbalanced by the pollution that’s released by cross-country transport. From a purely ecological perspective, this puts local produce in a place of superiority. This is especially true since small farms will have less of an impact on the environment as a general rule – less product means smaller fields and less pesticide use.

Of course, if local-organic is an option, that will always be the clear winner. However, in the case that it’s not available, locally grown food still wins out. While local foods are often expensive, so are organics, so the price isn’t a huge factor, but in terms of sustainability and environmental friendliness, local produce comes out on top.


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