Is It Better to Buy Locally Grown or Organic Produce?

Your go-to shopping guide for spring's freshest produce. Don't forget your reusable tote!

Birds are chirping and trees are blooming, which means farmer's market season is upon us. With so many vendors selling fresh produce, we're ready to brighten our fridge with spring fruits, vegetables, and herbs; but it can be hard to navigate the market and know what's worth buying. While farmer's markets are a great opportunity to support local agricultural businesses and small food makers, they may come with a price, which often goes up even more when the greens are organically grown.

So, when is it worth shelling out the extra cash for locally-grown produce at the farmer's market, and when do you opt for the organic version? And what does organic actually mean?

Freshness Counts

In many towns, farmer's markets only happen on the weekends, which means you may have to plan your meals for the week to know what to buy and avoid waste. Produce at a farmer's market or farm stand is often picked locally within a day or two, which means you're getting fresher fruits and veggies than you would at a grocery store. Farmer's markets are best for picking up local-grown ingredients you'll be cooking with immediately (because the flavor will be particularly pronounced) or trying unusual produce you can't find anywhere else. The vendors are experts on how to cook with their latest and greatest crops.

When to Buy Local Versus Organic Produce

In terms of choosing between organic and non-organic, certain foods are completely safe to buy non-organic (and save you a few bucks to boot). If you're on the fence about when to buy organic, look at the item. Rule of thumb: Produce that has an inedible peel—like corn on the cob, squashes, onions, garlic, pineapple, and avocados—does not need to be organic. The peel is what contains the most chemicals and, if you're going to toss it anyway, there's no risk. If it doesn't have a peel at all (like berries and leafy greens) or has a peel you'll likely be eating (such as apples and potatoes), it's worth it to spend a couple extra bucks to avoid consuming pesticides. Of course, buying food that's locally grown and organic is a win-win.

Why You Should Buy Organic

The biggest reason for buying organic is that your fruits and veggies contain less synthetic pesticide residue than non-organic. The USDA is the only agency that can officially label food as organic, meaning those products have undergone a rigorous approval process. While organic products usually come with a higher price tag, organic farmers also reduce their carbon footprint by relying on crop rotation and natural fertilizers rather than synthetic chemicals. Don't ignore organic meat, either—whatever the animals eat ends up in your body. Fewer antibiotics and a grass-fed diet is more beneficial for you and the animals.

Navigating the Farmer’s Market

The best part of shopping at farmer's markets (aside from supporting local farmers) is that you can talk to the people who grew, harvested, and produced the goods in front of you. Pick their brains about what's been a strong crop and if there's anything particularly new or special on the stand. Plus, vendors often let you try a sample of whatever you're interested in.

Buying at a farmer's market further reduces your carbon footprint, because the produce isn't shipped to a wholesaler or third-party retailer. Stashing your fresh greens in a reusable bag cuts down on plastic, too.

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