Should I Buy Organic?

— Written By

This article originally appeared in the Warren Record.

The other day I went to the grocery store and picked up a bag of organic apples. Let me tell you why.

I chose the organic apples because it was a cultivar I preferred (the right combination of tartness and sweetness). Upon inspection, they also seemed like the best quality of all the different types available at that store, nice and firm, good color. I honestly didn’t pay much attention to the price, but I suspect they were a bit higher than the “conventionally grown” apples. It was worth it to me to get the quality and cultivar I wanted.

On many other visits to the grocery store, I would have chosen the conventional apples for the exact same reason (quality and cultivar).

So now let me tell you why I didn’t choose the organic apples.

I didn’t choose them because I thought they were healthier. If there is a health benefit to eating an organic apple versus a conventional apple, it is probably so small as to be immeasurable. What is certain is that apples are good for you, and you will be wise to eat them regularly.

I also didn’t choose them because they were “pesticide free”. The fact is, organic production does not prohibit the use of pesticides, it only specifies that growers use “naturally derived” pesticides. Regardless of whether pesticides are synthetic or naturally-derived, they are potentially toxic and must be used with caution. In either case they can leave minute residues on the crop, but the US Environmental Protection Agency sets very strict limits to ensure that their use causes no adverse health effects for consumers.

Nor did I choose the organic apples because I thought they were produced in a more “sustainable” fashion on some quaint family farm. In fact, I know absolutely nothing about the farm where those apples were grown. Organic agriculture is big business, with products coming from farms of all sizes from tiny to gigantic. Some of the organic produce you see in the grocery store is produced on large farms in far off locations like Florida and California.

Had I been shopping at a farmers market, I could have asked about the farm, and would have happily supported the small family farm, organic or not. In fact, one of the ills of our society, in my humble opinion, is that we are so far separated from the source of our sustenance, separated by distance and shipping and cellophane. I’m not sure I’ll ever make much of a gardener, but at least at the farmers market I can speak to the person who planted the seed, picked the harvest, and delivered it into my hands. I can ask them about their farm, where it’s located, how their products are grown and handled, and they are generally delighted to tell me.

And whether the products are organic or not, I can ask them about their stewardship of the land, the practices they use to build soil and protect bees. In general, organic farmers do a great job of those things and I applaud and support them. Many of the practices they use should be adopted more widely. I also recognize that it’s more costly to grow things that way, and I have no problem paying a premium price.

But if your goal is to have a healthy diet, then eating lots of fruits and vegetables is a no-brainer. I am very confident that no one can do it better than a North Carolina farmer, organic or not, and your local farmers market is a great place to find them.

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