Welcome! This blog is being created by students in the courses Population Ecology and Biological Diversity at the University of Oregon. It is one component of their work, and for each course will unfold throughout the term. +Jessica Green & Ann Womack
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Organic vs. Traditional Farming: Is it worth the extra cost at the grocery store?
These days everybody is on a budget and a dollar doesn’t
seem to stretch like it used to. Because of that we have to cut corners
somewhere and we may start at entertainment, new clothes, and eating out. Maybe
we’ll cancel cable, change our cell phone provider, or turn off the lights. One
thing we can’t get rid of though is our food budget. We may be able to reduce
it to the bare minimum, but we all need to eat. This brings up an interesting
dilemma at the grocery store, it’s obviously cheaper to buy non-organic food,
but are the organic products worth the extra cost?
base, organic farming doesn’t use pesticides while traditional farming does.
“Organic farming is a ecological production management system that promotes and
enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity”2.
With management practices focused on enhancing the quality of land, organic
farmers can create havens for various species. Birds, bees and butterflies
along with increased soil habitat are better for the environment and the health
of the plants. There is no need to use harmful pesticides because “organic
farming increases biodiversity among beneficial, pest-killing predators and
pathogens”2. It can also create larger yields of produce. In a study
conducted by Washington State University test plots of organic potatoes
produced larger potato plants and had fewer insect pests7.
farming methods can use up to 31,000 tons of chemicals to kill weeds, insects
and various pests3. These chemicals are meant to kill anything that
is not supposed to be there, and they don’t stop once all the bugs are gone.
They leech into the soil and our groundwater, polluting important areas and
contaminating our natural resources. Common pesticides have been linked to
miscarriages and birth defects, along with lowering male sperm count and can
cause infertility8. Intensive agriculture like monocroping, where a
single crop is planted in large areas, has increased crop production but posses
several environmental problems6. The most devastating factor of
intensive agriculture is soil degradation. Soil is a living entity, full of
life spanning from earthworms to bacteria. If soil is healthy it can provide
food, water and air to growing plants. The more nutrients available in the
soil, the more nutrients the plant receives and can pass on to us when we eat
it. Soil nutrients come from minerals in the earth, as well as dead plants and
animals. It takes a long time for soil to develop, but it can be rapidly lost
due to erosion. Some research suggests that using fertilizers suppresses the
diversity of life in soil, making it unhealthy and hard to grow plants9.
By reducing the diversity of soil it compromises its structure. This can lead
to the loss of valuable topsoil and nutrients needed for proper plant growth.
Along with pesticides, some
non-organic farmers use genetically modified (GM) seeds. The largest GM crops
in the US are corn, soy and canola. These crops have been linked to allergic reactions,
sick, sterile and dead livestock and damage to almost all organs in
laboratory-tested animals4. Genetically modified crops go through a
process where genes from the DNA of one species are extracted and forced into
the genes of an unrelated plant or animal. These genes can come from anywhere; bacteria, viruses, insects and even humans. A vast majority of processed food
in the US contains genetically modified ingredients. Although genetic
modification has attempted to increase nutritional benefits or productivity,
they have only accomplished herbicide tolerance and the ability for the plant
to produce its own pesticide. Neither of these provides health benefits4.
Between the pesticides and the genetically modified seeds the extra money at
the grocery store seems to be worth the cost.
is not that big of a difference in the price of organic and non-organic
produce. The difference averages between 10-70 cents per grocery item8.
A small price to pay to keep the chemicals associated with traditional farming
out of your body. There are ways to keep the cost down which may take a little
getting used to, but it’s a simple habit to change. The best thing to do would
be to buy directly from the farmer. Some small farms have a stand at their
property to sell their goods; here you can guarantee that the produce is fresh
and organic. Since these are usually family-owned businesses you may have a
chance to meet your farmer. If going out to the farm won’t fit in your
schedule, visit your local farmers market, or join a CSA. Some Community
Supported Agriculture will deliver your produce right to your door. It really
doesn’t get more convenient than that. The website www.localharvest.org can help you find CSA’s
in your area and inform you of your various options for local organic
If you live
in an area where farmers markets and organic farms are not an option for you, there
is still hope. While organic produce will always cost more than conventional,
the price of in-season fruits and vegetables is usually lower. Know what is available
in your area during the year and plan your meals around what’s fresh that
month. There are various charts and websites available to learn more about
seasonal produce in your area. For instance, www.epicurious.com
has a fun interactive map. Not only will you be supporting better farming practices,
maybe you’ll find a new love for vegetables.
While organic produce may be more
expensive it is worth it. Michael Pollan says, “…Whenever I hear people say
clean food is expensive, I tell them it’s actually the cheapest food you can
buy. I explain that with our food all the costs are figured into the price.
Society is not bearing the cost of pollution, illness and subsidies-the hidden
costs to the environment that makes cheap food seem cheap. You can buy honestly
priced food or you can buy irresponsibly priced food.” By choosing organic, not
only will you be doing yourself a favor by not ingesting harmful chemicals.
With organic you vote with your dollar, to increase soil health and diversity
of crops, and to show that you care about yourself and the future health of our
food system. Choosing local produce and going to the farmer directly can help
curb the increased cost, even planting a garden in your backyard can help. If
you need more convincing please watch this TED talk by 11-year old Birke
Baeher, a young man who is planning a career as an organic farmer.
1. Bengtsson, Janne,
Johan Ahnström, and Ann-Christin Weibull. "The Effects of Organic
Agriculture on Biodiversity and Abundance: A Meta-Analysis."Journal of
Applied Ecology, 42.2 (2005): 261-269.
2. Gold, M. V..
N.p.. Web. 10 Jun 2013.
3. Harris, K.
N.p., n. d. 28 May 2013.
4. Institute for
Responsible Technology. Web. 28 May 2013.
5. Kremen, Claire,
and Albie Miles. "Ecosystem Services in Biologically Diversified Versus
Conventional Farming Systems: Benefits, Externalities, and
Trade-Offs." Ecology & Society, 17.4 (2012): 153-177.
6. Mäder, Paul,
Andreas Fließbach, David Dubois, Lucie Gunst, Padruot Fried, and Urs Niggli.
"Soil Fertility and Biodiversity in Organic Farming."Science, New
Series, 296.5573 (2002): 1694-1697.
7. Martin, J..
N.p.. Web. 28 May 2013.
8. N.p.. Web. 28
May 2013. <http://www.live-the-organic-life.com/organic-food-cost.html>.
9. N.p.. Web. 12
Jun 2013. <http://www.soilassociation.org/whatisorganic/organicfarming/healthysoil>.
10. Organic Research
Center, . N.p.. Web. 27 May 2013.
Biodiversity benefits of organic farming v4.pdf>.