The organic produce industry needs to clear up a widespread misconception that organic produce clashes with locally grown counterparts in the summer peak growing season, according to Simcha Weinstein, marketing director for Bridgeport, N.J.-based Albert’s Organics.
He said the misconception dates to a 2007 Time magazine article called “Local vs. Organic,” which highlighted the debate between the two and explained the benefits of each.
“Since this article, organic and local — at least in the media — have been pitted against one another, as if somehow they are competing food choices, and only one option will ultimately rule the day,” Weinstein said.
What has resulted is a false choice for consumers, Weinstein noted.
Organic and “homegrown” produce often complement each other, he said.
“Buying both local and organic food is optimal and certainly achievable in many areas of the country,” Weinstein said.
He said consumers should learn to differentiate locally grown and organic items.
There can be some key distinctions between the two, Weinstein said.
“Organic food has a definitive standard and is regulated by the USDA, and we therefore know how the food is grown and processed,” he said.
There is no such set of standards — even a set definition — of homegrown product, he said.
As local becomes popular and because the media tends to discuss it alongside organic, there seems to be a tendency for the two to become confused with one another, Weinstein said.
“It’s not at all an uncommon assumption for shoppers to believe that food that is grown locally is also organic,” he said.
Adding to the confusion is an assumption that all food found at local farmers markets is organic, Weinstein said.
Homegrown and organic play vital roles, Weinstein said.
“They both have their strengths and the ideal, of course, is to find food that is both local and organic,” he said.
There also is some crossover between the two, according to recent statistics.
According to the Organic Trade Association’s U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes & Beliefs 2011 Tracking Study, 97% of families surveyed chose organic produce at least sometimes in 2011, up from 94% in 2009.
Much of that is a result of purchases of homegrown produce, said Christine Bushway, the Brattleboro, Vt.-based OTA’s executive director and chief executive officer.
“There is significant correlation between the summer homegrown movement and interest in organic produce,” she said.
She said an increasing number of consumers are choosing organic fresh fruit and vegetables at farmers markets and through community-supported agriculture programs.