Which Is Better For the Environment – Organic or Locally Grown Foods?

by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM Published on , Last Updated on

Buckets full of produce. Try to incorporate organic locally grown foods for a healthier lifestyle.

The long standing debate between people who care about their health and the health of the environment concerns not only what food to eat, but what kind of food is best to buy.

How do you sort out the differences between local, organic and local-organic foods? Which is better for our health and better for the planet? What the heck does it mean to be organic anyway?

Different people define “local” product different ways. Some say that if food comes from farther than 50 miles away it is not local. Many say 100 miles is the cutoff [1]. Others say it must be within 250 miles to be considered “locally-grown”.

The choice is yours, if you live in a booming agricultural area then you should probably set your standards a little higher. If you live in the middle of a desert, then having your food travel a bit farther to get to you is probably okay.

Organic typically means “Certified Organic”. Growers have to go through a lengthy and expensive certification process overseen by the USDA or other credible certifiers such as Oregon Tilth to be “certified organic.”

Organic foods are those grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides and are not genetically modified. For plants, organic also means that farmers don’t irradiate their crops, and for animals it means that they’ve been given only organic feed for a year or more, no antibiotics and no growth hormones. One thing to take into consideration is that farmers may be farming organically, but they may not be certified because of the time commitment certification requires.

Making The Case For Locally-Grown Food

Farmers Market

Stringent supporters of local business have pointed out that, organic or not, buying local is better for the environment because sometimes organic foods have to travel long distances, using oil and fuel, increasing CO2 emissions, and increasing their carbon footprint.

Besides reducing your overall carbon footprint, local seasonal fruits, veggies, and dairy may taste better because local crops are harvested when they are the freshest, and they make it to you sooner-ensuring that you are feeding your family the freshest foods.

Considering all of these factors, the environmental cost may outweigh the benefits of buying organic products.

Making The Case For Organic Foods

On the other side of the table, local foods that are not organically grown have all the problems of many other commercially produced foods. They are less nutritious and have fewer flavors. Most non-organic foods maintain high levels of pesticide residue, heavy metals or other harmful contaminants, even after they’ve been washed, and then we ingest it.

Non organic foods have a detrimental effect on the environment because the herbicides and pesticides used leech into the water supply and corrupt local ecosystems.

When Organic Is Recommended

You should make an effort to buy the organic versions of the following foods that retain high pesticide levels. Pesticides are poisons, not something you should be enthusiastic about giving your family!

  • Fruits – Apples, Grapes, Nectarines, Peaches & Pears
  • Legumes – Peas, Beans & Peanuts
  • Berries – Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries & Goji Berries
  • Vegetables – Bell Peppers, Celery, Peas & Spinach

How To Save Money on Organic Foods

Produce that doesn’t contain a lot of pesticide residue when properly washed doesn’t need to be purchased at the higher price of organic foods. Many of these are the foods that have a thick skin or husk that will be peeled off prior to eating. Of course, if you are on a strict organic food diet then you should purchase all of your foods organically, and better yet locally whenever possible.

  • Must-Peel Foods – Bananas, Pineapple, Corn & Avocados
  • Tropical Fruits – Kiwi, Mangoes & Papaya
  • Vegetables – Asparagus, Broccoli & Cauliflower
  • Seafood – Don’t ever be fooled about something labeled as “organic seafood.” No such thing exists! No USDA certification standards have been established for seafood.

What Should I Do?

Most cities have farmer’s markets that offer a variety of locally produced fruits, vegetables, sauces and meats. Local honey is especially beneficial because it can offer some resistance to allergens in the area. The website Localharvest.org is dedicated to helping people find farmers markets and other local, sustainable grown foods.

Locally-Grown Tomatoes

Support your local growers, find out which ones are selling organically produced foods (certified or not), and encourage more of the local farmers to find alternatives to harsh pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Excellent sources of information on the freshest and best tasting local foods are area chefs

Chefs often seek out the highest quality, lowest cost products and may be able to direct you to fresh food sources that you weren’t even aware of.

Encourage your local grocery store to stock local products, ask specifically for the products that you want and make sure that they honor your request. If not, take your business to someone who will. Whenever possible, you should buy local, organic products.

Growing Your Own Food is the Best & Safest Method!

Grow Your Own Food

If you’re looking for a sure-fire way to avoid the organic vs. local debate, you can grow your own fruit and veggies!

Seasonal fruit and veggies are easy to grow in barrels or flower boxes and often don’t require much maintenance and minimal care. What is in season, and when, depends on where you live.

There are many online resources as well as organic gardening books in the local library or bookstore. Garden centers at local home improvement stores often have brochures that talk about organic farming and outline the plants that grow best at what time of year. Every state has a cooperative extension office. These provide information on local farming, and they usually have phone numbers that will connect you to people who are more than happy to share their knowledge with you!

References (1)
  1. Margot Roosevelt. The Lure of the 100-Mile Diet. Time Magazine. 2006 June 11.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Global Healing Center does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by Global Healing Center are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.

  • Pat

    Great Article! I’ve always wondered which was better. There’s a local farmers market near my house that sells a little bit of produce that is all organic. I buy from there as much as I can.

    If the market doesn’t have what I want, then I go to the store and buy the organic produce there. Only the healthiest for my little girls! 🙂

  • It is my opinion that anything grown organically without the use of pesticides and caustic chemicals is far and away better then super market produce. Don’t put foreign material into your body and you’ll be a much healthier person.
    Thank for a great article!

  • Very good article! But I don’t agree that some fruits doesn’t need to be organic, for example, the ones with thick skin. Organic vegetables and fruits are better than the other ones also because their content on minerals and vitamins is higher, not only for the pesticides.

  • Bran

    I personally try to buy from a local farmer’s market whenever I can, despite whether or not it’s organic or genetically modified. If they don’t have what I want, then I buy organic from the grocery store.

    Unfortunately, there are not any organic farmers markets in my area. 🙁

  • B.B. Martin

    Thanks for such an educational and useful article! It answered questions I had about the health factor of locally grown foods. Now I know what questions to ask about at local farmers’ markets and request at other markets I frequent.

    It’s good to understand your choices when organic food is either not available or too expensive. Knowledge and understanding are powerful tools in decision making!

    The more we know what to ask for (demand) the more producers will provide it (supply).


  • Great article! I’ve been a fan of organic fruit and veg for a few years now and last year managed to get an allotment close to home so we now grow most of our own. There is nothing to beat the taste of home grown tomatoes, strawberries and sweetcorn in particular and you don’t need a huge amount of space – before getting the allotment I used to grow things in tubs on the patio and there is always room for herbs on the windowsill. To pick what you’ve grown from seed and have in on your dinner plate within minutes is just the most amazing thing, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

    i also find spending time working on the allotment extremely relaxing and can happily lose hours up there absorbed in the work – it’s the best way to connect with the earth, the seasons and your mind and body.

  • Great article – you’ve presented both sides of the debate in a reader-friendly way and really leave it up to them to make decisions. We grow what we can in our organic garden, and try to buy organic local whenever possible. We know a lot about the methods used for many of our growers here in Oregon which makes purchase decisions a littler easier when we’re at the farmers market or local grocery store. Most disappointing is visiting the national chains that might sell organic produce from south america – we pass on that!

  • Love the detail about which foods are particularly susceptible to heavy metals and pesticides and need to be organic, and those that are less important. I find that sometimes the variety of organic produce is limited, so it’s helpful to know which non-organic produce is the least likely to be harmful.

  • Natural Health Therapies

    Organic is definitely the way to go, unless you enjoy eating poisons via pesticides and growth hormones. 🙂 One thing to remember is that the USDA is not really protecting the integrity of “certified organic”, but is modifying that label to allow for certain synthetics. Check out the USDA site for more info. In my opinion, that sort of leeway defeats the purpose of organic purity. Make sure you read the labels.

  • Katie

    It’s also critical to keep in mind that many local farmers practice sustainable farming practices or are at least making efforts to keep pesticide use to a minimum. Furthermore, there are many local farmers growing organic foods but do not have the time or resources to go through the lengthy government process to become certified organic. The best way to find out is to ask the farmer – in my experience, they are always happy to tell you how they grow/raise their food (unlike many corporate farms out there, including corporate organic farms!).

  • Terry

    why do you pass on the organic food from overseas?
    do you think it is better to buy regular produce from the chain stores instead?
    I know organic produce from overseas is old and probably different laws on pesticides….
    oh, What is a mother to do?……….
    We do have a garden and grow lots, but throughout the winter we have to shop chain stores
    Thank you!

  • veronica

    Once a person starts buy more and more organic until that is ALL you would purchase–you will find that you will not even consider something that is not organic–unless of course, you KNOW that the local items are NOT sprayed and that would probably not be too many farmers as most feel they MUST spary to get a nice crop.

    If Monsanto gets its way it is we will be very fortunate if we can count on truly organic–I say make a bumber sticker and put it on your car saying, ‘”SAY NO TO ‘GMO’–DOWN WITH MONSANTO”

  • dooberheim

    veronica, without knowing what they spray, you can’t conclude if it’s “bad for you” or not. Organic farmers are permitted to use sprays such as rotenone and nicotine, as well as less toxic sprays such as calcium disulfide (lime-sulfur).

    Learn something about toxicology, and you’ll eat and feel better.


  • Christine Mattice

    I think that organic foods are a great option. Even regular grocery stores now carry organic foods. Unfortunately, I never buy any because of the price. They tend to be much more costly than regular foods. Is there a way that I can find inexpensive organic foods to buy? If so, I’m all for it!

  • Aaron Luxur

    Loved this!

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