Let’s clear up one issue: There is no such thing as local vs. organic. When it comes to consumer choice, we should be buying local
and organic, though for mostly different reasons.

Why We Should Buy Local
Local is really important as a deep investment into your local economy and developing a relationship with the person who produces your food.
Not only do local businesses generate more local income, jobs, and tax
receipts, but they also tend to utilize advertizing, banks, and
services in the local community. In fact, a dollar spent at a local business turns
over seven times in that community; while the same dollar spent at a
box store or chain only turns over 2.5 times. Buying locally builds a
healthy community on many levels. (For case studies on the economic,
social, and environmental impacts of buying local visit the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies).
Not only can you support the economic health of your community and
offer security to your hardworking neighbors, but you can eliminate the
uncertainties of agribusiness by talking to your farmer and seeing
first-hand how your food is produced. It is also helpful in being able
to purchase food that is often fresher. What’s more is buying local can create local food security,
which may become more and more important in the near future. We at
Rodale Institute couldn’t be more enthusiastic about local.

Considering the Carbon Footprint of Food
In this conversation, food carbon footprint
often arises. However, the most carbon intensive portion of food
production and consumption, outside of driving to the store and putting
the food in your refrigerator, is the farming methods. The amount of
carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere varies widely with
regard to the manner in which the food is grown. Because the
manufacture of chemical fertilizers
and other conventional farming inputs are reliant upon vast amounts of
fossil fuel, the food you eat (local or not) can account for huge
levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) releases. According to a recent
New York Times
article about Tropicana orange juice, fertilizers alone contribute to
nearly 60% of the CO2 emitted in production. Conventional
chemical-based agriculture is a net emitter of CO2 and by some
estimates contributes between 9 – 20% of our total greenhouse gases in
the U.S.

On the other hand, non-chemical organic farming will pull carbon
dioxide right out of the atmosphere and hold it in the soil for
decades. As a matter of fact, research at Rodale Institute that
has now been replicated at several land grant universities, shows that
over 3.5 tons of CO2 can be sequestered on well-managed organic soils
using compost and no chemical inputs. Synthetic fertilizers and many
pesticides used in conventional farming inhibit the biological factors
that build soil carbon, which adds to the long-term destruction of

Why We Should Buy Organic
If we converted all tillable acres globally to organic practices, we could sequester up to 40% of all the world’s carbon emissions.
This is the single largest strategy for mitigating carbon dioxide.
There is nothing more significant to help us in our crisis with
climate. In the U.S. alone, it would be equivalent to taking
216,000,000 automobiles off the road, or 25% of our country’s CO2 emissions. This is most hopeful news out there.

Some might recoil at the organic or even farmer’s market prices that
are often asked for these products, but remember when we buy organic we
are paying the grower for the full price of our food.
This true price reflects our power as consumers to support our farmers,
who sequester our own personal carbon emission excesses, such as those
from our commutes, air-conditioning, and other “necessary” purchases
that have been shipped in from off-shore, with sustainable farming
practices. And in the production of organic food, unlike conventional
chemical agriculture, there are no long-term ecological costs that are
yet to be paid for by us or by our descendants.

Buy organic always, and encourage and buy local. Doing so is a direct investment in one of our very few, possible futures.

Guest contributor Tim LaSalle is CEO of Rodale Institute, which is
dedicated to researching and educating farmers and consumers about
sustainable agriculture.