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Choosing Between Local and Organic

In reducing our own climatic impact, what food we choose to purchase plays a huge role. Ideally, everyone would purchase organic food at their local farmers market and thus promoting sustainable agriculture while simultaneously supporting a thriving local economy. However, often access to farmers markets are limited and the choice between local and organic has to be made at the shops. The challenge is to make the best choice; which can be very tricky to get your head around. What is more sustainable? Organic food that promotes a thriving biodiversity but potentially has more food miles on its account? Or local, non-organic produce which has significantly less food miles, but where organic guarantees might not be in place?

Graphic courtesy of Soil Association.

According to a report from the government, only about 2.9% of the total farmed areas in the UK were organically certified in 2017 and about 58% of those are in England. About 8.8% of the total number of organic producers and processors in the UK are in Scotland. This means that the availability of food that is both local and organic is somewhat limited. Often leading to a difficult ethical choice for the consumer. I believe that every opportunity that we are given shall be invested in organic purchases since demand drives the market.

If I were to make a case for organic produce I need to refer to one of the most influential reports as of late years - ‘Planetary boundaries’ by Rockstrom et al. (2009) showcased that we are beyond the limits of operation space when it comes to biogeochemical flows i.e. the use of synthesised nitrogen and phosphorus rich fertilisers and genetic diversity in the biosphere for example. Thus it supports the notion that organic produce is of outmost importance since our ecosystems are heavily burdened by the loss of biodiversity due to monoculture based agriculture and an excessive use of non-organic fertilisers; which leaches out the natural nutrient richness in the soil and pollutes rivers and lakes.

Graphic credit: Steffen et al. 2015

Simultaneously as I am pushing for organic produce, it is also important to acknowledge that to be organically certified as a producer in the UK is a lengthy and complicated process, so although not having certification - there is a great chance that your local producer operate with some sustainable values. The best advice I can give you there is to do some research in what farms operate in your area. Supporting local farmers is important for a thriving countryside. The organic certification however gives you a guarantee that the producers are inspected annually by certifiers which follow EU directives, thus I will advice you to prioritise local and organic food when possible.

Local produce is important as it limits excess carbon emissions due to transportation - commonly referred to as food miles. One way which makes it easier to reduce food miles is to eat according to whats in season, Its important to think seasonally, especially since fresh produce such as tomatoes that can be grown in the UK in the winter, actually produces more carbon dioxide emission to heat up UK glasshouses in the winter than what it takes to import them from Spain.

My concluding thoughts are that investing in organic and local produce is an insurance for a thriving countryside both in terms of the economy and biodiverse ecosystems, which will benefit future generations. However, as the availability of food that is both local and organic is somewhat limited at the shops, I strongly advice to invest in your local farmers market or purchase whats in season at the moment. Consume either local or organic produce if having both is not an option where you live. Never buy food that both has long food miles and is not organic as this process is the most detrimental to the environment.

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Linnea Sjögren is originally from Sweden, and is now an ambitious Sustainable Development student at University of St Andrews in Fife, Scotland. Sustainability is her passion and she wants to show that there are many simple steps available for us all to reduce our carbon footprints without complicating or reduce our quality of life.​

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