Thursday, December 18, 2014

Organic vs. Local

by Wesley Hatch, Produce Clerk

Greetings friends. My name is Wesley Hatch, produce clerk extraordinaire. I can be found early mornings stocking the greens case or stacking up those lovely local apples. I’d like to share a local agriculture story with you.

Before my partner Megan and I moved to Concord, while still living in Northern Vermont, we decided to shift from a vegetarian diet to one with a small amount of meat. We also hoped to add more local produce and dairy to our diet. Being food-conscious people who are aware of the negative affects artificial growth hormones can have – both in the animals being treated and in people who ingest the food – we believed organic meat was the best choice. We also knew that supporting local agriculture is beneficial to the community, helping farmers continue providing good quality food to their customer while also signaling to Washington that Americans around the country support local agriculture and have a desire to know where their food comes from.

The closest farm offering organic, humanely raised beef was about fifteen miles away, which in rural Vermont meant about a half-hour ride. With winter coming and gas prices rising, we knew we had to find another solution. Riding home from work one day, I noticed a sign for a farm close by our apartment, just outside town. There was no organic certification attached to the name, and nothing indicated how the cows on the farm were treated. At first, we were skeptical: If it wasn’t certified organic, how would we know if the food produced was healthy or the cows well treated? Would it be better to just buy organic meat from a local grocer?

A visit to the farm taught us a great deal about food production and raising animals that we would never have known without talking to Brian the farmer. Brian gladly showed us around his well-maintained farm. He took great pride in the work accomplished on the farm, proud of his healthy and humanely treated cows, and proud to share his wide-breadth of knowledge with interested customers.

We learned that although his farm was not certified organic, he used many of the same practices that organic farmers use. None of the cows were treated with artificial growth hormones and he did not use pesticides or industrial fertilizers on his cow-feed corn. Chickens roamed freely, foraging around the property. The eggs were healthier and better tasting than any of the store-bought organic eggs we had tried.

After our visit, we knew in the future it would be important for us to seek out and learn about our local food producers without preconceived notions. If we had simply discounted Brian’s farm because it was not organic without first visiting it, we would have missed out on some of the best meat either of us had ever had, and Brian would not have had two valuable customers supporting his farm.
In the ongoing effort to find the best food grown under the best possible conditions, it is important for all of us to keep our minds and ears open. Next time you see local produce or meat without an organic certification, a visit to the farm is a great way to verify to yourself whether or not the food is right for you and your family. Here at the Co-op, we strive to offer a range of organic and local options so that you know that whatever you pick, it’s a better-than-average choice. Happy eating, friends!