Local and Organically Grown Food

How do you define local food? Maryland farmer Jennifer Schmidt wants consumers to know that even some canned foods could be considered local for many people. Listen to her story in the video.

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Is buying from local farms better for the environment?
Not necessarily. The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University reports that the number of transportation miles and energy used to produce so-called “locally grown” food turns out to be great indicators of what is local, but not of environmental impact. Sometimes it takes more energy to grow and harvest local food than it does to grow it far away and have it shipped. Sustainability has many complicated facets beyond the carbon footprint, including soil tillage, crop protection and fertilizer use, waste handling, shipping and water use.
Buying from local farms helps support area farmers but does not ensure that farmers grow enough food to help feed a rapidly increasing global population. Only 20 percent of U.S. farmland is located near metropolitan areas. As our population grows and competes for land, energy and water, U.S. farmers will need to be even more efficient and productive. Small, local farms will have a niche but cannot alone sustainably or practically address all future food production needs.
Should I always try to buy organic foods?
Organic does not necessarily mean a healthier product. In fact, a comprehensive review of some 400 scientific papers on the health impacts of organically grown foods, published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, concluded organic and conventional food remain equally healthy.
All foods – whether organic or nonorganic – must meet certain health and safety regulations before being sold to consumers. Several U.S. government agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), monitor the food production chain through regulations and inspections from farm to fork to ensure that all food is safe.
Understanding what classifies food as organic is complex. The production processes involved in growing or raising food qualify it as organic, not the final product itself. Organic classification should not be an automatic green light indicating the quality or safety of a product.
Is organic food more nutritious?
The USDA, which certifies organic production, makes no claims that organically grown food is more nutritious than conventionally grown food. Organic food proves to be only different in how it is grown, handled and processed.
In the case of milk, stringent government standards include testing all types of milk for antibiotic and other residues to ensure that both organic milk and conventional milk remain equally pure, safe and nutritious. Organic or traditional, all milk contains the same valuable nutrients.
Why is organic food often more expensive?
Organic production can increase management costs and risks for some farmers and ranchers. Organic crop production actually represents only a very small portion of total U.S. food production. U.S. farmers and ranchers plant about 3 million acres of organic crops and have about 2 million acres of rangeland and pasture in organic systems. Those figures represent less than 1 percent of total U.S. land being farmed today.