By Olivia Brown
August 11th, 2023
Fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy — these are the foundations of a healthy diet and a large portion of what goes into our bodies. But those who invest in eating organic would argue that the produce we buy from grocery stores aren’t made equal — that some items are better than others.
In the produce section of any local or chain grocery store, a smaller subsection of shelves supply organically grown fruits, vegetables, and other fresh items that are labeled as such. Meat and dairy items are also included in USDA officiated organic labeling. These products might not look any different from anything else around them, but it is how they’re grown and produced that makes up the difference.
According to the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA), in order to be considered organic, produce and other products must be grown and processed in a specific way. For fruits and vegetables, they can only be certified organic “if it’s certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest.” These “prohibited substances” would include most pesticides and herbicides.
As for meat products, the USDA writes that “regulations require that animals are raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (like the ability to graze on pasture), fed 100% organic feed and forage and not administered antibiotics or hormones.”
Anyone can follow these regulations in order to produce foods organically — many home grown foods and family farms produce foods and animal-made products in an organic way — but the USDA certified “organic” label requires a thorough checklist of specifics needed to receive the stamp of approval. This could ultimately lead to the betterment or detriment of local businesses, farmers and communities overall.
But buying organic food seems to be worth the effort being put into the stamp of approval from the USDA; this is because organic foods are all around holistically and economically better for both the consumer and the producer. While there are drawbacks to having the organic label, such as requiring a heavy price tag for farmers pursuing certification, there are benefits that come with being financially supported by local consumers and communities.
A local neighborhood grocery store called the Eastside Lansing Food Co-Op (ELFCO) is a market that sells produce and baked goods sourced from local farmers and makers in the Lansing area. Sally Potters, ELFCO’s general manager, stated that a big reason for selling local produce is that farmers are paid more than what they would get in a larger grocery store. “[One goal] is to pay farmers directly for their goods three or four times what they would sell it to another party.” She also said, “if someone is going to grow food, they should be rewarded and they should get a fair price for their food.”
This idea of paying farmers directly is a universally shared view when it comes to community building in farming communities. In a University of Vermont article written by Vern Grubinger, “wholesale prices that farmers get for their products are low, often near the cost of production. Local farmers who sell [directly] to consumers cut out the middleman and get full retail price for their food – which helps farm families stay on the land.”
This extends not only to farmers and their families, but also to the communities themselves. In smaller towns, neighbors are tight knit, creating a unity amongst each other whenever one needs it. “This is an opportunity to create a food store in what is called a food desert because there’s not a full range food store within about a mile and a half of this location, so [we are] a place where people can walk and get what they need … and to benefit farmers and makers and the community,” said Potters.
A FoodTank article, “Study Reveals Organic Farming is Financially Sustainable Around the World,” written by Emily Nink, writes that “the labor-intensive nature of organic farming has the potential to revitalize rural economies, providing an added economic benefit outside of the farm-level scope of the analysis. Organic farming can redistribute resources in rural areas and promote economic stability through job creation.”
While consuming organic foods is promoted as a better alternative for the environment, for farmers, and for local communities, consumers are not always stuck buying higher priced goods at franchised grocery stores.
Farmers markets provide ample amounts of locally grown produce from locally sourced individuals. One such market is the Allen Farmer’s Market. Located in Lansing, Allen Farmer’s Market provides year-round fresh produce and foods from a variety of local growers. Not only does it allow for the community to support local businesses and consume more fruits and vegetables, but the market accepts payments through SNAP/EBT and other food assistance programs. This just goes to show how individuals are supported as a whole from growing to buying to consuming local and organic foods.
The question of whether or not someone should be buying organic and/or local food over commercially grown products is a question that should only be answered by the consumer themselves. But with all hope, local and organic farmers will continue to be able to provide fresh foods for their communities in an environmentally and economically beneficial way.
Oliviah Brown is a 5th year senior double majoring in English and professional writing, and minoring in digital humanities. Her aspirations are to use her studies to pursue a career in editing. When she’s not studying, she is usually reading or figuring out new recipes to bake.