Surprisingly, currently where information is widely available, a lot of the population is still confused about organic food and its superiority. Organic food, be it plant or animal based, is anything that conforms to organic farming standards. These vary worldwide of course – in the United Kingdom, they are set by organization such as the Soil Association. A study conducted by this association shows that half of the people buying organic food do it for the health benefits and lack of chemical residues, while others do it to protect the environment and support animal welfare.
Apart from all the potential health benefits and nutritional value, the first thing that springs to mind when talking about locally grown organic fruit and vegetables is flavour. Nothing tastes quite like strawberries bought at a Farmer’s market in June or Cox’s apples in October. When grown organically, fruit and vegetables are only available at certain times of the year due to their natural cycle. Eating seasonably ensures you get the most natural nutrient packed food that hasn’t required excess energy to grow, which also happens to significantly improve the carbon footprint. The reason organic food tastes better, might be down to lower crop yields and higher levels of antioxidants. There is more nitrogen available in the soil for fewer fruit and vegetables, resulting in crops densely packed with flavour and nutrients.
As well as helping the animals, you are also taking part in preserving local wildlife. Because of restricted use of synthetic herbicides and pesticides, organic farms are safe havens for a variety of local species. Organic farmers go that extra mile in helping preserve the natural habitats by maintaining hedgerows, planting flowers and managing grasslands and ponds. By supporting these fragile ecosystems, they are ensuring that important species of bees, butterflies, birds and small animals are not driven to extinction.
Organic food is sustainably farmed meaning resources are recycled, to minimize waste – this is becoming increasingly important in a world where finite resources are disappearing by the minute. There are a lot of problems associated with large scale industrial farming such as soil erosion, chemicals leaking into bio-systems and use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Organic farmers avoid all these issues by using natural fertilizers (like manure produced by farm animals) and choosing crop varieties with natural resistance to particular pests and diseases – they also rotate crops to keep soil full of nutrients. Despite popular belief, soil is a non-renewable resource and preserving it for future generations is of paramount importance.
There are other less obvious factors to consider when buying food – the amount of time required for your dinner to arrive at your table is often measured in “farm-to-fork” hours or food miles. A lot of fruit and vegetables, especially out of season, are imported, which is not surprising given the climatic conditions. The transportation this produce requires, however, is what contributes to the carbon footprint. Think of all the miles bananas travel from countries across the world, and the emissions that cargo vehicles produce. Although buying local seasonal fruit and vegetables is normally the answer to the food miles’ problem, certain fruit like bananas do not naturally grow in certain countries. In cases like these look out for the Organic certification on the packaging. Not only will this food be nutritious and flavoursome, it would help the local economy and environment in other countries. We are all in this together, after all!
Joe Thomas is a guest writer from the UK, who creates articles on a range of subjects, including health and nutrition, sustainability and environmental issues.