Kennesaw Communication: Local, organic foods impact health, economy

Story by Mia Rojas for KennesawCommunication.com on October 24, 2011

  • Buying organic can be costly in tough economy, but benefits can save money in long run
  • Pesticides dangerous for human consumption
  • Local farmer’s markets growing in popularity

Consuming organic products has proved to be beneficial to both the environment and our health. Today however, consumers continue to buy conventionally grown products due to its significantly lower cost.

In this economy, many households simply cannot afford to go 100 percent organic. However, people today are cautious when buying non-organic produce due to the high levels of pesticides found in many of the fruits and vegetables.

Jessica Nixon, 22, is a new mother who is gradually making the switch toward organic foods. “I’m a mom now,” said Nixon. “I didn’t really care too much about what I ate before, but now that I have Isabella, I want to take care of her as best I can.”

Nixon admits that eating all organic foods is a bit out of her budget, but she says that a good tip to saving money is knowing exactly what foods to buy.

“You have to do a little bit of research in the beginning,” said Nixon. “There are some foods that have a higher degree of pesticides than others, and those are the ones I buy as organic.”

The Environmental Working Group created a list known as the Dirty Dozen to help consumers determine which fruits and vegetables have the most pesticide residues and are the most important to buy organic.

Apples, celery, strawberries, peaches and spinach are found at the top of the list because they are the most contaminated. Onions, sweet corn, pineapples, avocado and asparagus, however, are the lowest in pesticide residues and are the top five of another list known as the Clean 15.

Another point Nixon emphasizes is on knowing where to shop for groceries. Choosing a local farmers market can be less expensive than the bigger chain markets because you are buying directly from the farmer.

“I prefer going to smaller places like the Dunwoody Green or even Morningside Farmers Market,” said Nixon. “I get to talk to some of the farmers about their products, and I find it cheaper than places like Wholefoods or Harry’s.”

Morningside Farmer’s Market, located in Atlanta, has offered certified organically grown produce since 1995. Eleven certified organic farms get together every Saturday morning to sell fresh, organic produce.

Whippoorwill Hollow Farm is a 74-acre certified organic farm located in Walnut Grove, Georgia. The farm, managed by Andy and Hilda Byrd, grows a variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs and raises diverse livestock for eggs.

Bob Smiles, who has volunteered for the farm for over three years, says that unlike other farmers markets, Morningside is the only market in Georgia that requires all its vendors to be certified organic.

“There is a difference between natural, local and certified organic,” said Smiles. “Other farms could also be using sustainable agriculture, but the process of becoming ‘certified organic’ is long and it involves a lot of paperwork and yearly inspections.”

After ten years in the business, Andy Byrd is no rookie to the lengthy process.

“At our farm, we use sustainable methods of agriculture,” said Byrd. “That means we don’t use any of the conventional pesticides and herbicides used by larger non-organic factory farms.”

According to the Organic Trade Association, organic agriculture promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. In essence, by replenishing the soil, it works in harmony with the environment.

Pesticides, however, eliminate and control a variety of agricultural pests that can damage crops and livestock, and reduce farm productivity. The uses of such chemicals leave residues on the fruits and vegetables we eat, and overtime become hazardous to our health.

Although Whippoorwill Hollow farm does use a form of pesticides and herbicides approved by organic standards, Byrd says they also use garlic and red pepper sprays and a method known as crop rotation.

“Each year we rotate the crops so you kind of keep the bugs confused,” said Byrd. “If you have a little bit of a pest problem one year, by rotating (crops) you prevent them from staying and damaging your crops.”

The uses of such methods require a lot time and work, and the productions of crops also vary upon seasons. Due to a longer time of productivity, the demand for organic products continues to outgrow the supply.

The end result is higher prices. With that said, are the health benefits of organic foods really worth the extra dollar or two? Andy Byrd has only one answer to that question.

“We have to think of this food as fuel to our body, as gasoline is to your car,” said Byrd. “If you’re going down the road and you see gasoline pumps on both sides of the road, one says 70 cents a gallon of trash, water, and contaminants and the other says 3 dollars a gallon of the highest quality premium you can use, which one are you going to chose?”

In an economy where people are “pinching pennies,” Byrd says that the long-term benefits of switching to organic foods include “fewer colds” and “less medical visits.” Like a car, the fuel or foods you put into your body determine how long and how well it will run in the future.

ICONN NewsStream

ICONN NewsStream

J.P.R.O.F.

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This article was edited and re-packaged by Margaret Grigsby, a member of the ICONN News Stream at the University of Tennessee. Please direct any comments or questions to mgrigsby@utk.edu.

 

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