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Local or organic?

When it comes to buying food in the most sustainable and healthy fashion, the question of buying local or buying organic often comes up. Tim LaSalle of the Rodale Institute points out that there are many good arguments for buying locally-produced food.

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.

…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.

In considering the carbon footprint of our food, it is also clear that organic methods can make a huge difference.

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.

…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.

LaSalle’s bottom line recommendation: “Buy organic always, and encourage and buy local. Doing so is a direct investment in one of our very few, possible futures.”

Read the rest of the article.

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