Organic Versus Local Produce: What You Need to Know

Sara Lovelady Aug 04, 2014

If you’re confused by words like “organic” and “local,” you’re not alone. While these terms are showing up with greater frequency at farmers’ markets, grocery stores, and even on restaurant menus, they are very rarely defined. So what do “organic” and “local” mean? Are foods grown organically or locally more nutritious than conventional foods? And which is more important: eating organic or local produce?

Let’s start with organic. At its core, organic is about purity. In ordered for food to be labeled organic, federal law requires that it be produced without using most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). As a result, organic farmers use alternative methods of farming, such as crop rotation or companion planting (in other words, planting crops that help each other grow next to one another).

Local, on the other hand, is about proximity. According to a provision in the 2008 Farm Act, any food labeled “local” must be grown within 400 miles of where it is marketed. However, different states, retailers, and restaurants have their own definitions of the word. Some states define “local” as meaning grown within the state. Farm-to-table restaurants often have a more narrow definition, restricting use of the word to foods grown within a 100-mile radius.

I think the reason there is so much confusion about the two terms is that there’s often an overlap: Food that is locally grown is frequently organic and vice versa. However, that’s not always the case. For example, at my favorite natural foods store, the organic apples frequently come from New Zealand. And at my hometown farmer’s market, the local raspberries aren’t organic, because the certification process is very costly for small farmers. As a result, many family farms may use organic farming practices but can’t legally call their fruits and vegetables “organic.”

As to the question of whether organically and locally grown produce is more nutritious than conventionally farmed fruits and vegetables, results from scientific studies have been mixed. I personally believe that they are, but the jury is still out. However, it is well-documented that the nutritional value of a fresh piece of produce starts to decline as soon as it is picked. That means that locally grown fruits and vegetables, which have a much shorter transit time from field to table, are generally more nutrient-dense.

That brings me to the Juice Plus+ farm to capsule initiative. Juice Plus+ starts with farm fresh produce that, whenever possible, is carefully grown by midsize family farmers for the best quality nutrition. To avoid shipping the fruits and vegetables long distances, which would compromise their nutritional value, The Juice Plus+ Company locates juicing and drying facilities as close to its farmers as possible. And when that’s not possible, they use a process called Individual Quick Freezing (IQF) to lock in the nutrients of each fruit and vegetable before they have time to degrade. This also allows for a consistent supply of Juice Plus regardless of the growing season.

Many of the fruits and vegetables featured in Juice Plus+, while not certified organic, are grown using natural methods to control weeds and insects. But importantly, you don’t need to be certified organic to have assurance of purity. Juice Plus +is one of the few nutritional products available that has been certified for purity by NSF, an independent organization that sets an extremely high bar for dietary supplement safety and quality.

Increasingly, shoppers say they value local over organic food.

What about you?

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