Organic vs. Local: Do We have to Choose?

It’s the time of year when greenmarkets overflow with bounty and, if you want, you can get most of your produce from the locally produced offerings there. I love it—except for one lingering concern: many of the options at the farmer’s market are not organic. Not ideal with little eaters in the house.

Making sense of the organic versus local debate can be overwhelming. Each “side” makes a compelling argument about why they are the healthier choice, but it’s clear that one option isn’t inherently better than the other. What are parents—who barely have time to read, much less analyze the health and environmental impact of our food choices—to do?

Let’s start with the difference between local and organic, which, for the record, are not mutually exclusive. Foods labeled organic are overseen and grown in a way that exposes them to far fewer pesticides than conventionally grown foods. Local food is just that: food grown near you. Local food is often more tasty since you get it much closer to the time when it’s been picked. Local food is not necessarily organic, though more and more small farmers who serve their local community use organic practices. In fact, since getting the organic label can be expensive—too expensive for some small farmers—some of the food at your farmer’s market may be grown organically even if it doesn’t have the label. Always ask the farmer to be sure since foods that are organic and local are often more available than it seems and always the best option.

When organically grown local food is not an option, though, a choice has to be made. I have been mulling the choice over for some time now have an (educated) feeling about what is best for my family that I think is worth sharing:

Given that my children are young, still developing, and eat more fruits and veggies in proportion to their body weight than adults, I opt for organic over local in most cases. At their young age, it’s very important to keep pesticides off of my children’s plates.

What does this mean? I have decided that, at least while my children are young, it makes sense to buy organic as often as possible, especially foods on the Dirty Dozen list (the 12 most pesticide ridden foods). I try to find organic options that are also local at my farmer’s market but, if forced to choose, I’ll buy organic produce at the grocery store over something local that’s been conventionally farmed.

At the same time, there’s the incredible value of making sure that my hungry boys get to experience a freshly picked plum, peach or summer squash. So, in the summer, I get a little lax— because what better way to learn about how delicious and versatile natural foods can be than to eat something at peak season?

So there’s my bottom line: Because I have small kids, when forced to choose, I opt for organic over local except at peak produce times when delicious freshness trumps everything else. What about you: do you find yourself favoring either organic or local over the other?



About Stacie Billis

Stacie Billis is a food writer, child-development expert and blogger at One Hungry Mama who fancies herself a cross between SuperNanny and Jamie Oliver. As a mother of two hungry boys, she knows that kids change the way we cook, but they don't have to change how well we eat. Selfish? Sure, but it turns out that feeding kids the good foods we enjoy—along with a little food parenting—is the best way to inspire healthy habits for life. Knowing this, Stacie is putting her MA in child development, experience developing an organic family food brand and passion for delicious food to good use in her kitchen and yours. You can also find Stacie as One Hungry Mama on Twitter and Facebook.


  1. Our farmer’s market has very few farmers growing their food organically. However, my son lives 15 minutes away & has just invited my husband & I to shop with him at the farmer’s market in his town. I hope to have better results there. Though we have no young children, we still prefer organically grown over fresh pesticide ridden food.

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