The trendy label or clever marketing campaigns might have you assuming otherwise, but buying organic produce and goods have far spanning effects that aren’t easily measured by a USDA label. The food ecosystem we all participate in each day is an interconnected web, tugging on one market has rippling effects felt across the globe. The common argument against organic principles is that it is too expensive or it’s model isn’t capable of feeding the world. According to a UN report in 2013 aptly named ‘Wake Up Before It’s Too Late’, small-scale organic farming is the only way forward in feeding the world’s growing population and to guarantee food security against a changing climate.
The sticker shock at grocery stores can be disenfranchising, but once we put into context the process of which organic produce is grown and the other factors affected by this system, there develops a compelling argument for supporting the UN report.
NPR produced a story in 2016 backpacking on a previous story produced in 2014 addressing the debate on whether organic food is more nutritious than conventionally grown. It credits a meta-analysis study from over 200 other studies finding organically produced meat and dairy contain nearly 50% more omega-3 fatty acids, and another meta-analysis study from 2014 finding organically produced crops contain higher ranges and concentrations of antioxidants compared to their conventionally grown counterparts. Needless to say there are a plethora of other measurable items comparing if foods are more nutritious than others, but both omega-3‘s and antioxidants are specifically linked to increase preventative health measures and benefits. It’s estimated with the rising cost of healthcare, taking preventative heath measures have a dramatic effect on offsetting cost of insurance, medications, and health care down the road. Think of organic produce being somewhat of a subsidized investment towards longevity and lower insurance premiums.
Economic Strength of Local Economies
More often than not, organic produce and goods are found and purchased within smaller local economies connected to regional markets. In other words, the organic apple at your local WholeFoods is most likely coming from within 200 miles rather than Japan. This has tremendous implications for the vitality and fiscal autonomy of local economies. When purchasing organic produce from farmers’ markets, CSA’s, farm to table restaurants, or within the regional food shed, those dollars spent are circulating within your locale. They aren’t flowing into investment banks or multinational corporations who tend to hoard or reinvest for profit driven purposes. They are moving to the local farmer who’ll buy a truck from the local car dealership with the dollars you spend on their strawberries. According to basic economics, this system of money flow is arguably the fastest, strongest, and most robust way to build up financial stability within your microcosm.
Environmental Stewardship and Climate Change
Conventionally grown produce depends on the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides before and during each harvest. This has a few unique and profound effects on the environment. Primarily, these chemicals are petroleum-based. The FAO has projected fertilizer use to surpass 200 million tones globally next year, and by now it’s no surprise what extracting, refining, and using fossil fuels does to the environment. When adding these chemicals into soil, it sterilizes the microbial life which in turn weakens it’s ability to retain water, prevent erosion and flooding, and protect against drought, pests, and disease. This creates a feedback loop for farmers to continue using more chemicals from the prior year. (See Soil: The Hidden Weapon Against Climate Change) Resorting to organic growing methods and planting cover crops leads to limited soil tilling and carbon sequestration. This practice has proven to be both sustainable and produces higher crop yields compared to conventional fertilizer applications.
No one expects you to pull out some peer-reviewed studies to weigh the economic and social costs of buying an organic orange next time you’re at the market. It is however important to keep in mind the perceived markup on organic items as one you’ll exponentially avoid paying down the road through healthcare costs and taxes. And not only benefiting you, buying organic seems to be benefiting more of the people around you and the environment. Yeah, it’s cool to be kind. Let’s do more of that..