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What does Organic and Locally Grown Actually Mean?

In the last couple of years, the popularity of “organic” and “local” products in the United States has simply skyrocketed.  The numbers don’t lie.

According to the UFPA (United Fresh Produce Association), between 2015 and 2016, weekly sales of organic vegetables went up 7.6%. But that’s nothing compared to the sales of organic fruit, which were up amazing 17.5%.

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What’s more, the study also discovered that around 82% families in the US now by organic food from time to time. But despite the popularity, a vast majority of Americans is still confused about the aforementioned words mean.

Are People Really Informed?

A recent study published in the International Food and Agribusiness Management Review revealed that at least 17% of people in the US think that organic food has to be locally grown. Another 23% think that local produce is always grown organically.

But that’s not all. The researchers also found out that 40% of US consumers believe organically grown food has more nutritious value than conventional food products. And almost 30% of consumers believe that about locally grown food.

The main reason behind this confusion is that certain phrases like “all natural ingredients” for example are not easily policed by government officials. In fact, most phrases used on alleged health products have basically no legal definition enforced by the FDA or the FTC.

So, what’s Organic Food?

When we talk about these two words, organic food can be more easily explained – at least from a legal; perspective. But as we’ve seen, most modern consumers don’t know that. So in order to be labeled as organic, a producer has to abide by a strict set of standards.

According to the USDA, your product can be qualified as organic if you don’t use any synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or genetically modified organisms during the production of it. The land has to have proper soil testing results and nutrients have to be managed through natural biological and physical controls.

And when it comes to organic meat and dairy, producers have to provide non-GMO cattle with outdoor access throughout the year. Naturally, they can’t use any antibiotics or growth hormones whatsoever. This applies in both the United States and Canada.

And what’s Locally Grown?

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On the other hand, defining locally grown food is not so easy. For example, if we look at an official Department of Agriculture report, while local food definitely has a geographical connotation, there is no clear definition in terms of the “distance between production and consumption.”

However, the well-known Farm Act, released just two years before the DOA report, said that local food has to be produced in the region in which the product is marketed and sold. According to the Act, a locally grown product cannot be transported more than four hundred miles from the place of its origin.

Just think about it – four hundred miles is a long distance (approximately a drive from Washington to Boston, for instance). So if we go by the Farm Act definition, locally produced doesn’t even mean produced within your state.

Which One is Healthier?

Now we come the question you’re probably most interested in – which one of these two is actually healthier for you? Well, if you’re a health-conscious person, you should know that organic products are probably better for you – but not because of nutrition measures.

You see, a 2012 Stanford study revealed that organic food doesn’t really pack more nutrients than your average, generic food. But the study was widely criticized for taking a narrow view of nutrition. Organic food doesn’t use chemical pesticides – which is by definition a healthier choice.

Nevertheless, local food is also good for you. For one, it’s far more nutritious than its organic counterpart. Nutrients start to degrade as soon as you pick a vegetable or a fruit, so the sooner the farmer gets it to your local market – the better.

The Bottom Line

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And those are the basic differences between locally grown and organic foods. While both of them are great and healthy options, it’s important to know the difference between them. Especially when you take into consideration the cost that can be attached to both.

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