The organic food market has been taking leaps and bounds towards the mainstream since its first rise to popularity in the 1940s as an effort to counteract the increasing industrialization of agriculture. However, organic accessibility looks a lot different today than it did then. Organic foods are available almost everywhere you go to shop, including the largest grocery chains, where previously you could rarely, and sometimes never, find organic products. Flash forward to today, and the organic industry is booming. There are large scale organic farming efforts making it possible to access organic products just about anywhere, and although these products are still pricier than non-organic counterparts, they’re becoming more and more affordable in addition to more accessible. But, these large scale organic farms have their pros and cons, and they can take a toll on the family farmers that used to be the sole distribution source for the organic industry. Small, family farmers made up the bulk of the organic farming industry for decades, and they still do in terms of number of farms, but conglomerate organic farming efforts supply most of the sales.
The organic farming industry is still alive and well today, as farmer’s markets can attest. A cottage industry is a collection of smaller operations and sellers that run their business primarily out of their homes. This concept is entirely rooted in small scale operations, so you can imagine how family farming falls under this category. If you frequent your local farmer’s market, you’ll find plenty of family run operations and most of them are homes based. But, cottage style organic farming doesn’t stop there. Plenty of families maintain an organic garden for their own consumption and enjoyment too, and never sell a single item.
So…is buying organic from a major chain bad?
Not necessarily. There are a lot of pros and cons to purchasing your organics from both the bigger guys and the smaller guys. It all depends on your personal preference.
Purchasing from larger scale growers means that your accessibility to organic products is going to be a lot higher. You can make your supermarket the one stop shop for all your groceries, instead of purchasing from different stores. And your market is more likely to have a lot of different brands to choose from, so you never feel stuck with one option. It also brings a bit more affordability when it comes to the organic transition because production costs for the conglomerates are significantly lower, and stores can sell packaged items at more budget friendly price points. The downside to buying organic products, especially produce, at the supermarket is that you’re not going to enjoy as high of quality as you would find with a smaller grower. The organic stuff in the grocery store has traveled hundreds, if not thousands of miles to reach your shopping cart. This means produce was harvested early to account for ripening during transport, and it’s been off the vine longer, diminishing its nutritional density and overall freshness.
You’re also not supporting your local community, and wasting an opportunity to pour your hard-earned dollar back into the local economy. Smaller organic operations have their pros and cons too, though. You can generally only purchase products that are in season, which means that you may not have a consistent supply of a certain produce or other produce related products when they’re out of season. But you will find that the quality of the produce pretty much makes up for it! When grown in smaller batches, your organic items taste better and are more fresh, ripe, and full of nutrients. Smaller organic farming operations also tend to be better for the environment by supporting good ecological health and biodiversity, and by reducing the carbon footprint associated with transportation.
So buy organic from the supermarket if you care about…
Affordability of organic items
Accessibility to all types of produce year round
Convenience of shopping your grocery list all at once
Lots of options and brands
And purchase from your local organic farmer if you care about…
Supporting your local economy
Making connections within your community
Higher nutritional density and taste
Fresher items from farm to table
Decreased carbon footprint and greater biodiversity
It’s not always black and white, so feel free to get a little gray and do some shopping at both! I personally try and get all my produce items from local organic cottage farmers at my local farmer’s market, and purchase more of my staple items, packaged products, and beauty products at the super market. I encourage you to try out the local farmer’s market, and ultimately to do what works best for YOU!
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