No one on either side of the fence is much interested in pitting two hot movements in the fresh produce industry —locally grown and organic — against each other.
Ask those in the industry and they say that, not only can locally grown and organic produce co-exist and thrive equally, but it almost seems natural to do so.
“I don’t think it needs to be an either/or-type thing,” said Mike O’Brien, vice president of produce for Schnuck Markets Inc., St. Louis. “It’s futile to even think about competing with each other.
“You have to separate all the media and marketing with what’s really good produce. I’d like to focus on what’s really healthy, good produce, no matter where it’s grown and how it’s grown.”
A recent report from the Economic Research Service, a primary source of economic research and analysis from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, did look at emerging issues in the U.S. organic industry, including what, if any, effects the locally grown movement might have on organics.
An ERS nationwide survey of U.S. organic handlers found that 24% of organic sales in 2004 were made locally (within an hour’s drive of the handlers’ facilities), 30% were made regionally and 39% nationally.
A national survey published last year in Natural Foods Merchandiser asked U.S. consumers: “If you were purchasing a particular ingredient for a recipe and you had a choice of either a local product or a non-local organic one, which would you choose, assuming equivalent price and quality?”
In that survey, 35% chose local, 22% selected organic and 41% chose both equally.
“I think they can certainly complement each other,” said Laura Batcha, director of marketing and public relations for the Greenfield, Mass.-based Organic Trade Association. “The interest arises from some set of needs … to know how (produce is) removed and where food comes from. Many local foods are also organic.”
“I think the interest in where doesn’t stop with right near me. It’s where it comes from no matter where it comes from,” Batcha said. “I think it’s a false choice, really.”
A number of local organic food initiatives are springing up around the country. Illinois passed legislation in 2007 designed to make that state the Midwest leader in local and organic food and fiber production. A county in Iowa has enacted policies to rebate 100% of real property taxes to growers who convert to organic production and support local programs. At the federal level, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has grant programs to help support local-organic initiatives throughout the country.
“I just think it’s a real individual choice,” said Bryan Black, assistant commissioner for communications with the Texas Department of Agriculture. “I think it’s great that the agricultural community has those options out there.”