The Local vs. Organic Debate


This post was written by Jessica Griffin. Jessica is a Nutrition Dietetics major at IUP who enjoys running, the beach, and healthy living.




When trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, the biggest factor for most people is simple: what food should they eat. However, it has become clear that not only does it matter what you eat, but more importantly, what kind of food you buy. When selecting foods such as fruits, vegetables, and dairy, you may want to consider the source of your food rather than just the brand name.

Is it best to choose locally grown versus organically grown products? These two options have been the center of an ongoing debate in recent years. In order to understand what the controversy is over, it is important to be aware of what the two terms actually mean. The definition of locally grown varies from place to place, but generally is known as a product grown in the local area. Foods that travel less than a couple of hours from the farm to the store fit this label. Organic foods uphold a more specific definition in that they must meet USDA standards. Foods that come from organic farmers are never grown or processed by any means of artificial ingredients, synthetic preservatives, or irradiation.

Both methods of farming come with their own pros and cons, and many people have strong opinions towards both. The only way to truly decide which option is more preferable to you and your family is to look at all aspects and understand what they really mean.

Some people prefer locally grown farmers because their means are more environmentally friendly through the reduced travel time which decrease the use of oil, fuel, and carbon dioxide emission. It is also believed that the foods grown locally may taste better due to the shortened length in time they arrive to the store, which assures its freshness. These aspects are important factors to consider, but it is also important to look at the bigger picture. Although foods that are locally grown may be fresher, there is often no guarantee they were harvested naturally, without any chemicals and pesticides; or that the animals were not given hormones. Although not all locally grown foods are cropped with chemicals, there are still a large amount of companies that do use them.

Organic foods themselves are also under a tug of war between advantages and disadvantages. Farmers who grow organically have been praised for their more natural methods due to their omission of any chemical use. In order for a product to be called “organic”, it must follow USDA regulations and contain at least 95% organic ingredients, and the name of the certifying agency must appear on the package. Most products that are labeled organic wear a USDA organic seal that certifies it as an identified natural product. Labels that say “100% organic” verifies that all ingredients including the product and anything used in processing were grown according to USDA standards. A label that says “certified organic” means a USDA agency confirmed that the farmer, or company, that handled the food meets all USDA organic requirements. More specifically, vegetables cannot be grown with chemical pesticides or fertilizers, or genetically modified, and organic animals must be fed organic feed and cannot be treated with antibiotics or hormones, as well as having access to the outdoors.

People who prefer to go the organic route will reason they feel safer consuming foods that they can be sure could not potentially harm them; however, there is also major speculation about the effects on the food system, as well as its value of freshness. Foods that are organic typically have traveled extensive amounts of time before they were put out in a store.  This means that the product has been sitting for a much longer time period from when it was cropped. In terms of quality, most would likely prefer a product that is as fresh as possible.

So what’s the verdict? It’s really a matter of opinion. If you value quality in terms of freshness, and being familiar with the place your food came from, then locally grown foods are more suited for you. If how your food was grown and harvested is most important, then organic foods may be your preferred choice.

The bottom line is: there is not one answer for which option ultimately is the better choice because everyone will have their own opinions and own concerns. I personally prefer to choose locally grown food that is also organic, I am lucky enough to live in an area where this is possible, not everyone has that option since some places are not fit for farming.

The most reasonable conclusion may be to purchase the organic versions of the top most contaminated fruits and vegetables due to their thin skins to reduce or prevent any possible pesticide exposure. These foods, sometimes referred to as “The Dirty Dozen”, include peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, grapes, spinach, lettuce, and potatoes. If cost is a concern, it may be a good idea to save your money on the fruits and vegetables that are least contaminated due to having a thicker skin and have been conventionally farmed. Some of these foods are onions, avocados, sweet corn (frozen), pineapples, mangoes, asparagus, sweet peas (frozen), kiwis, bananas, cabbage, broccoli, and papayas.

Whichever option you chose ultimately will be based on your personal preferences, budget and location but, being well informed and having an understanding of what we are putting into our bodies is the most important factor overall. After all, we are what we eat.


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Hi! I'm Heather: a body positivity, Health at Every Size dietitian. When I'm not blogging about wellness, I'm spending time with my fabulous family. Sometimes, they wear me out, so then it's time to bake, read, knit, tie myself into a yoga pose, or continue to work my first novel... stay tuned.