“organic” or “natural”

Texas Farm Girl has stressed the importance of both sustainable farming and sustainable eating. Just as farmers must produce sufficient amounts of food in the most sustainable way possible, consumers must eat foods that were sustainably farmed to support these healthy farming practices.

When shopping at the grocery store, it can be tough to pinpoint which products are eco-friendly. Many of our options have “organic” or “natural” labels on them— but which is more sustainable? Here’s a little insight.

Organic

According to USDA’s guidelines, food is considered certified organic based on several factors, including soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives.  Of those additives, there is a USDA approved list of fertilizers and chemicals that are allowed by the farmer (some that are used even in non-organic farms).  To minimize the amount of additives, the soil is plowed to pull up the roots of the weeds, but isn’t full proof.  Those weeds can be stubborn and to minimize those additives further, you’ll see more people in the field doing manual labor.  While organic practices can reduce energy requirements and greenhouse gases through more manual labor, it is not the most sustainable practice of farming that will feed the world’s growing population.  In some areas, organic farming isn’t even a good option for those farmers that are limited on water resources.  Due to turning up the soil, organic farming can consume larger amounts of water.  In some drought regions, efficiencies in water are key to raising a decent yielding crop and farmers are subject to local fines for overages on water usage making it difficult to consider organic as an option.

Natural & Non-organic

It can be easy to group natural and organic together, as the words imply the same meaning. However, neither the USDA nor the FDA has guidelines for “natural.” In turn, many manufacturers put this label on foods that are actually heavily processed or grown non-organically. “Natural” is more of a marketing technique for purchasing one product over anotherr.  While conventionally farmed produce isn’t organic, it will save you money.  It offers more yield per acre than organic farming through efficiencies in their best practices and farmers are able to produce more food on the global scale. This minimizes the amount of land needed and ups the overall food production, and is a very important factor needed to increase production to feed 9 billion by 2050.

In short, it can be healthy to consume a mix of both organic and non-organic foods. The EPA is always working with both conventional farming and organic farming to promote more sustainable farming practices. If you pair this with shopping at your local farmers market regularly, you can feel good about consuming a healthy mix of local, organic, and affordable food.

We have a choice in America to shop and choose from multiple sources for our food where many regions in the world do not.  That is something we can and must be thankful for!