Did you know? Just a few generations ago, ALL produce was organic! Farms were smaller and more numerous, and more people worked in agriculture. More folks had home gardens. Weeds, diseases, pests, and soil health were concerns then as now, but methods were simpler and less intrusive (though more labor-intensive.)
As quick-fix tools like pesticides and chemical fertilizers became mainstream in the mid-20th century, and as more and more people moved away from farms and into cities, the focus turned to production, and many small farms turned into fewer big farms. These farms began to rely heavily on chemicals to keep up production– and no wonder! How else could one or two farmers manage hundreds and hundreds of acres of produce? In just a few decades, these huge farms with often only one crop became the norm, or “conventional” farming. (This name came into use when the “organic” movement appeared on the scene: a growing movement that has been picking up momentum since the seventies, made up of people who want to go back to eating like their grandparents.)
You may already know that at Wolff’s, “local,” rather than “organic,” is our true touchstone. It’s what we’ve been doing for 106 years, and we’ve gotten pretty good at it! You should see us in May, when we’re able to replace so-so California tomatoes with bright, juicy high-tunnel-grown local tomatoes. Or in June, when fresh local strawberries arrive just-picked in their open containers. Or July, when corn, blueberries, and melons are at their peak and we can proudly and personally recommend them to our customers. It’s like a little celebration every time a locally-grown fruit or vegetable replaces its Florida or California cousin.
But what about organic produce?
Recently I sat down with Fran and Ashley Wolff to talk about Wolff’s organic offerings. They told me about something very interesting called the “Hierarchy of Food,” which ranks types of produce in terms of our health and the health of our planet:
- Most desirable is locally grown AND organic produce
- Second best is locally grown NON-organic produce
- Then you have NON-LOCAL and organic (think USDA certified sticker)
- Finally, the least desirable is non-local and non-organic
Here’s the interesting thing: Wolff’s offers a HUGE amount of the second choice during the growing season, and we get as much of #1 as we can. We tried #3, but no customers seemed to want mealy apples or pockmarked zucchini for $5/lb!
This confirms what we have long believed about, say, a locally grown head of broccoli being preferable to an organic head of broccoli that has taken a long trip across the country (see: “10 Reasons to buy LOCAL produce,” below.)
But in addition, many of our local farmers DO use organic methods, and the sign for the product will let you know that. We have spent decades building relationships with our growers, and we are confident that they make responsible decisions for their crops, their families, and their land. This includes practices such as crop rotation, cover-cropping, IPM (Integrated Pest Management), and crop diversity. When our farmers’ practices exclude the use of chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides, we will let you know that their produce has been grown organically.
One last thing: why not certified organic produce? The biggest reason is the cost and paperwork involved for a farm to obtain organic certification. We like to think of “Certified Organic” as a helpful tool for large farms and impersonal supermarkets. But it doesn’t have much of a use in our small family market.
Have a question about our local farmers and their methods? Ask us! We love sharing what we know, because we love bringing our customers closer to the source of their food. As Ashley said, “We’re a local family business working with small farms who use their land responsibly. And by shopping here, our customers help support local business and diverse local farms. That’s what builds community.”