The last blog talked about the health benefits of going organic. But you can buy organic produce from across the country and still miss out on the biggest benefit of all – getting the absolute most out of your organic produce by buying local. Most produce is picked 4-7 days before it hits the shelves. Meat can be up to 2 months old before it hits your plate. Eggs can be 10 days old before they hit the shelf and have 28 days to be sold. The benefit of buying local as well as organic foods is that you shorten the time between harvesting and eating. According to the Frozen Food Foundation buying frozen produce does significantly decrease the degradation of food nutrients when you have little choice in colder climates and you can still buy organic.
Buying Local and Organic Food Is About Shrinking the Food System
Large agricultural food systems use processed feedlots, have different ways of slaughtering and processing meats, use pesticides or fertilizers in their production of animal feed, use hormones and antibiotics to speed growth and increase production that can decrease nutritive value, and use large distribution channels involving long transports and many middle men before the product gets to your store. Produce from large farm systems is treated with pesticides and fertilizers that can pollute nearby watersheds and kill the natural microbes in the soil that improve the nutritive value of the produce. They also can have higher contents of E Coli because the natural protection that the soil microbes provide is destroyed by the pesticides. This large food system means more delay between harvesting and eating. Local organic food production and distribution networks involve a smaller food system.
When you buy local and organic farm products you are getting products produced in smaller food systems, raised in a more natural environment without the use of pesticides and fertilizers or feedlots, with more humane slaughtering, and processing and packaging done by the farmer with fewer middle men so it gets to your home quicker, fresher and with more of the nutrients in tact. Also, grass from pastures that are grazed uses more carbon dioxide from the air than any other forest or field and puts it back into the soil, thus decreasing the carbon footprint. Cattle that are grass fed produce manure at a rate that can sustain and enrich the soil without overloading it with nitrogen and phosphorous and created a better grass root system preventing erosion. Grass fed beef produces less methane than cattle from feedlots. And you are supporting your local economy by creating jobs and keeping profits for the local farms
The Best For Your Health, Local Economy and the Environment
When it comes to buying local and organic foods, the absolute best choice is to buy beef, pork, poultry and poultry products that are grown organically, pasture fed and local. It’s more complicated when it comes to produce. Ideally you want to buy organic, locally grown produce. But in the winter in Maine the only thing you can get locally that is fresh are tomatoes, some root veggies, and some fresh greens from nearby greenhouses and farms. I would consider buying organic where it really counts. Peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, berries, pears, grapes and spinach, in descending order, are the most important to buy organic. The least contaminated produce are: onions, avocado, sweet frozen corn, pineapples, mangoes and asparagus. Since most of these you can’t get locally in the winter, buy fruits like organic berries frozen. Some fruits like bananas, oranges and pineapples have a thick peal that protect them from pesticides so it’s fine not buying these organic. Buy organic root vegetables like parsnips, turnips, cabbage and carrots because they absorb pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. They have a very late growing season in Maine so they are a good thing to get local throughout the winter at your local farmer’s market in Maine or the U.S. or a food cooperative in your state. According to Mary Jasch of Dig It magazine, you can grow some vegetables year round in Maine’s climate if you follow her directions. And probably the best choice for your health and your wallet is to start your own organic garden! In a 6′ by 20′ area you can grow all the organic lettuce, tomatoes, green beans, and cucumbers you could ever eat for a season. Plant some blueberry bushes and rhubarb – they need little maintenance and they freeze well. There is nothing better than a bowl of warm blueberry rhubarb crisp topped with vanilla ice cream!