Why Organic?

organic_food11Today’s adventure was a field trip to Whole Foods Market. (P.S. Thank you, Lauren)  I love this place and have for several years – it’s beautiful, it’s clean, the food tastes great and it’s a little bit “hippie”, which (being a child of the 60’s) I love.  But is it worth the cost?  Is “organic” really worth it?

Short answers – yes and yes.

Mayo Clinic says this: “The word “organic” refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat. Organic farming practices are designed to encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution. Farmers who grow organic produce and meat don’t use conventional methods to fertilize, control weeds or prevent livestock disease. For example, rather than using chemical weedkillers, organic farmers may conduct more sophisticated crop rotations and spread mulch or manure to keep weeds at bay.”

OK – we know what organic means but is it worth paying extra for the label?  Yes, and here’s why.  When we eat whole, natural, organic foods, we are giving our bodies the nutrition they were intended to receive and we are doing it naturally. We are eating foods which have been grown and processed without harmful chemicals being used in their production.

Here’s why they cost more: (courtesy Fox News)

  1. No chemicals equals more labor. This added labor is used to maintain and handle things such as weeding.
  2. Demand overwhelms supply.  Only .9% of farmland, worldwide, is used to produce organic food.
  3. Higher costs of fertilizer.  Instead of using sewage sludge and chemical fertilizers, organic farmers use compost and animal manure, which is more expensive to ship.
  4. Crop rotation. Organic farmers conduct sophisticated crop rotations to keep their soil healthy and prevent weed growth. This prohibits farmers from constantly planting high yield crops for profit.  It’s much more earth-friendly to rotate crops.
  5. Post harvest handling cost.  One reason for this is that organic farms are generally located farther from major cities causing higher shipping costs.
  6. Organic Certification.  Organic farms must pay up to $2,000 per year to maintain their certification.  This usually entails hiring specific employees to maintain daily logs and records which must be available for inspection at all times.
  7. Cost of covering higher loss.  Since modern pesticides are not being used, there is a greater incidence of loss due to pests.  Also, since there are no chemicals used – their shelf life is shorter (albeit more natural).
  8. Better living conditions for livestock. Organic feed for cattle and other livestock can cost twice as much as conventional feed. Animals are also living in better, more humane conditions which is more expensive as well.
  9. Organic food grows more slowly. Since growth hormones and chemicals are not used in the production of food, it takes longer.  But this is a natural, more healthy rate of growth.
  10. Subsidies.  In 2008, mandatory spending on farm subsidies was $7.5 billion while programs for organic and local foods only received $15 million.  The government is not encouraging organic farms.

So, you see it isn’t just an arbitrarily higher cost which stores, such as Whole Foods, place on their organic items – there’s no other choice. We, as consumers, must change our habits and insist on organic food.  Once the money flow is heading in that direction, the government and corporate money will change course as well.

NOTE:  Just because a food says “Natural” on the label doesn’t mean it’s organic.  Get to know your produce and meat managers at your local market.  Ask for organic food.  Have them show you where you can find it in their market, and if they don’t have it – try somewhere else.  The costs you’ll save on future health care will far outweigh the cost of good food.

And P.S.  Organic Kraft Macaroni and Cheese does NOT count.

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