When considering the best food ideology to support a sustainable planet, which is better: local or organic? The co-founders of Pure Love Organic Farm, an urban farm located in the Bronx, New York, argue each side.
The Case for Organic
The Organic Food Movement Is the Way to Go for the Health of Our Planet
By Michael Forman
Organic food is not a new phenomenon. In fact, commercial pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and chemical fertilizers have only been in existence since World War II. Organic food is free of all of these chemical additives, and for food to be certified organic, the seeds from which the food was grown or the feed that an animal was fed must also be certified organic. When we eat organic food or plant an organic seed, we are keeping these chemical additives out of our soil, our water supplies, and our bodies, and ultimately keeping the future of our planet sustainable and healthy.
The benefits of growing organic food are numerous. By growing organic food, we are promoting the health of the beneficial microbes that are in our soil. Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and other chemical treatments kill the life in our soil and can eventually render soil infertile, as beneficial microbes maintain soil fertility and allow us to keep our land healthy and usable. Farms and gardens that use proper organic, regenerative agricultural techniques can also train the soil to capture carbon (both monoxide and dioxide) and keep these harmful greenhouse gasses out of the ozone layer.
Furthermore, when chemical additives are sprayed on our plants or seeds they don’t stay put. These substances tend to leach into our soil. When it rains, we water our plants, or when plants begin to decompose, these chemical runoffs leach back into our water stream, contaminating our bodies as well. In fact, seven of the most toxic chemical compounds known to humans have been approved to be sprayed on our food.
Planting and eating only organic-certified foods keep these dangerous chemicals out of our bodies and water streams, which, in my opinion, is a strong enough validation as to why supporting the organic food movement matters. If you need any more validation, look no further than the reduction of our bee colonies and bee population due to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). One of the classes of most commonly used pesticides is called a neonicotinoid. Neonicotinoids are directly derived from nicotine and are partly responsible for the decline of the bee population due to bees collecting pollen from flowers that have been sprayed with this harmful chemical. Nearly one-third of the world’s food is dependent on honeybee pollination. Organic gardening and farming does not use chemical pesticides and therefore cannot cause damage to the bee population.
The choice is pretty clear: Plant organic seeds, feed your animals (both at home and on the farm) organic food, and buy and eat organic foods. The benefits are too strong to argue against. If you’re a farmer or a gardener, buy your seed or animal feed from organic-certified companies, and buy your household food items from the organic section of your local grocery store. If each and every one of us took these steps and bought solely organic food and planted solely organic seeds, we would make a huge impact on our health and the health of the planet. By demanding only organic food, we might even be able to put companies like Monsanto out of business, wouldn’t that be a cool result?
Michael Forman is a native of Bronx, New York, and has lived in New York City for almost his entire life. He is the executive farm director of Pure Love Organic Farms, an organic, urban farm that he and three other friends created in 2012 from a former garbage dump site. Michael also works as the North American account manager for Totally Green in the sustainable technologies field.
The Case for Local
The Local Food Movement Is More than Just a Good Idea: It’s an Inspired Way to Live for a Healthier World
By Lee Frankel-Goldwater
Few choices we make compare in impact to how we vote with our food dollars.
In an ever-expanding globalized society, small farms and businesses face increasing challenges contending with large-scale, corporate competition. According to a recent US Department of Agriculture report, “Today’s farms are fewer and bigger.” This has been part of a dramatic restructuring of the way food is grown over the past 150 years, which has led millions of farmers worldwide to migrate to cities, increasing the rate of poverty, and siphoning dollars away from workers’ hands and into the pockets of corporate shareholders.
The agriculture industry alone represents almost $800 billion yearly for the US economy, while food accounts for 13 percent of American household expenditures, third only to transport and housing costs. While it may be hard to change where we live and how we get around, contributing directly to local economies and farms through our food choices sends a clear message: out with the middle man, in with the farmers.
To add to the benefits of supporting local food, planetary health and biodiversity are greatly supported when we purchase from nearby farms. Historically, local farmers kept seed stocks and grew crops that were hardiest and best for their farm’s location. This led to a wonderful variety of crop types, flavors, and seasonal variation responsible for much of world’s unique culinary culture.
Yet today, most large-scale industrial agriculture operations utilize but a few seed varieties for all of the food produced, and have pushed out the little guys—seeds and farmers alike. According to the New York Times, even large organic producers can unfortunately be guilty of this issue. While organics are a far cry better for the plant than conventional counterparts, an increased pressure from large organic purchasers has led to a focus on consistency and uniformity over variety to support large scale distribution.
Closed loop economics fixes many of these challenges. Purchasing from a small farmer in your state can directly support livelihoods, which ultimately comes back to the buyer in the form of healthy food, stronger local economies, and the knowledge that we have contributed to a creating a healthier global society.
Check out these three easy ways to start eating locally and participate in the local food movement:
- Find and join a CSA (community supported agriculture). Receive a variety of fresh food from local farmers each week, often organic, too!
- Seek out a local farmer’s market. Most cities and towns have them. Meet the farmers, consume local varieties, and ask just how much pesticides they use.
- Talk with your small, local food shops and see if they would be willing to request local food varieties from distributors, or purchase from regional growers. This could make a big difference for everyone in the community and change the whole conversation. Visit slowmoney.org to learn more.
Lee Frankel-Goldwater is a professional environmental educator, travel writer, and social innovator. He holds an MA in Environmental Conservation Education from NYU, and has most recently been teaching Environmental Studies at Pace University, as well as working with The Sustainability Laboratory on several innovative community development projects in Costa Rica and Israel. Lee’s dreams include developing and leading new programs in transformative youth environmental education, fostering global environmental citizenship, and bridging worldwide gaps in cultural understanding towards a more unified and compassionate human society.
Photo by Flickr user Alice Henneman