It is summer time, which means farmers' markets are in full force and consumers are on the hunt for the freshest products available. They are also faced with a tough choice: should they spend their dollars on locally produced items, or should they make buying organic their top priority?
In fact, this is a false choice. Local and organic are not in competition with one another. On the contrary, they embrace many of the same values. They both emphasize support for farmers involved in food production. And they both encourage people to consider the environmental impacts of their purchasing decisions. Plus, as more and more local farms make the shift to organic, the choice between local and organic disappears: to buy one is to support and reap the benefits of both.
What should you advise customers to do, then, if they are in the grocery store and the option to purchase locally grown, organic products does not exist? Which type of product should you advise them to chose?
When faced with such a choice, encourage your customers to consider the following: organic offers a range of benefits that non-organic local products do not. because they are regulated by the federal government, products bearing the organic label must meet a strict set of production/handeling guidelines. They must be made without the use of toxic and persistant pesticides, sewage sludge, hormones, antibiotics, and genetic engineering. Additionally, they must not undergo irradiation or contain ingredients made from cloned animals. Local products are not held to any such standards, and therefore cannot be counted on to meet any of the aforementioned criteria. And, because the term "local" is itself undefined, no guarantees can be made about whether a product is, indeed, local!
Organic products are also distinct with respect traceability. In order to meet federal regulations, careful records must be kept about every phrase of organic production and handeling. This means that everything from the source of the seeds through the processing of products by certified businesses must be documented. Moreover. each of these steps must verifiable by a third party. Local products, by contrast, are neither required to provide such documentation nor to undergo third-party review. As such, no guarantees can be made about where local products come from or how they are handled.
Does this mean you should advise your customers to abandon buying locally made products? Not at all. Instead, it means you should encourage them to be thoughtful about local products they choose to buy, If they are labeled organic, consumers can feel confident that they have been produced in a manner that not only supports personal and environmental health, but also helps to ensure product integrity from the farm to their families.