May 5, 2010

Organics--Worth the Price?

A former comrade-in-arms messaged me recently because his daughter had decided to go all organic and he wondered whether it was worth the extra cost. Good question.

Let's start with that extra cost issue, because it's important. The first thing to understand is that growing things organically can be more expensive because there is more crop loss than with chemical amendments. Secondly, the economics of scale aren't in effect, because the scale of organic farming is, relatively speaking, small. Thirdly, and I admit my cynical attitude, "Organic" is a premium label, just like Gucci.

Perhaps the biggest impact on the price of organics is subsidies, or more specifically, the artificially low cost of non-organics. Let's say you have a friend, Farmer John, who grows organic lettuce. He has to support himself and his workers, pay his taxes, follow all the governmental rules and regulations, and get that lettuce to market. He's competing with some big corporation that has a factory farm offshore that has little or no regulation, pays its laborers a subsistence wage (if they're lucky), flies its lettuce to market on government-subsidized airplanes, and may be headquartered in some other country so it can avoid most U.S. taxes.

Farmer John is avoiding adding polutants to the water and air. His competitor will go wherever it can be least regulated. Farmer John is voluntarily watched at every step of the growing and delivery process to ensure that his produce is organic. His competitor will go wherever it can be least regulated. Farmer John will happily allow you to come visit his farm, and will proudly show you how well he treats that lettuce. His competitor will go wherever it can be least regulated. You can easily learn every single thing that Farmer John did to produce that lettuce. Good luck finding out where his competitor grew it, let alone what was put on it.

Really, the choice is clear. You can, to the extent you can afford it, support your local, regional economy and the health of the planet, or you can pay the articially low prices that factory farming offers.


  1. I think it really depends. If you're getting standard "organic" food from, say, Fred Meyer, most of that food is grown by large producers just as non-organic food, so most of the above is moot. Then again, if you're switching to local/organic, then the price change is definitely worth it.

  2. That's right, of course. The best thing to do is grow your own, the next best is to buy from a local farmer directly or at the farmers' market, third best is to buy local products at your grocer. But if you aren't buying local, then your food is travelling an average of 1800 miles to get to you, and it has been heavily subsidized by your tax dollars and it is destroying the planet, which is bad for my granddaughter.

  3. Love this post ... my in-laws need to read it. They give my husband and I a hard time about buying organic.