Both have their environmental benefits, but how do you know which too choose?
By Terri Chu
Organic greens have expanded from a niche, farmers’ market item into the mainstream. I consider anything found at Loblaws–where about one in three grocery dollars in Canada are spent–mainstream.
Organic growers will tout their eco-friendly street cred by citing studies that show pound for pound, they have a lower carbon footprint for their goods compared to conventionally-grown food. While this may be true for some goods, I wouldn’t assume it translates to every type of produce. A study done by some industrious students right here at the University of Toronto however, did confirm that for popular local goods such as carrots and potatoes, organic trumped conventional. What these students also found though was that the carbon savings of organic production was quickly overshadowed by transportation.
To be honest, ever since I learnt about systemic pesticides (pesticides that are absorbed in the plant effectively making the plant poisonous to insects), I cringe at the thought of purchasing conventionally-grown foods. Something that kills a bug at first bite no longer seems appetizing to me. With media reports of conventional farmers claiming they would not eat their own food, trust in the food system isn’t exactly at an all-time high.
However, let’s not paint all non-organic food with the same broad brush. There are many responsible farmers who don’t compromise food standards, yet can’t afford the very expensive and time-consuming certification process. It’s important to know your farmer and get food from a trusted source, not just a label.
Luckily for us living in the Annex, the time has come for us to enjoy our local farmers’ market again. (Full disclosure, I’ve been volunteering on the market committee for several years now). All farmers at this market are local and have been vetted by Farmers’ Market Ontario. In order to sell beans here, someone checked out their farm and confirmed they saw beans in the ground. The local production ensures that what you buy here is has as low carbon emissions as you will get. Nothing travelled very far and no supermarket was air-conditioned for it to be displayed in.
The farmers themselves staff most of the stalls. You can look your farmer in the eye and ask her what pesticides were used (if any), if her cows were free to roam and eat grass, and most importantly, would she feed the food to her own kids.
Living in the city, it’s hard to stay connected to where our food comes from and how it’s made. Meat comes in Styrofoam containers while milk comes in boxes. By shopping at local farmer’s markets, us city dwellers can reconnect with our food, feel good about what we eat, and at the same time, rest assured that by buying local, we’re minimizing our impact on our environment.
The Bloor Borden Market runs every Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. rain or shine in the Green P parking lot at on the south side of Bloor and Borden.