In Focus: Organic Options in Appalachia

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Ohio boasts more than 150 farms that use organic methods to grow many different kinds of produce. 

Organic produce does not contain any preservatives or pesticides and because of that, many consumers assume it is healthier than non-organic produce.

Many shoppers also believe that organics are more expensive than non-organics, and that organics do not last nearly as long as non-organics. 

Assumption #1:  Organics are more expensive

The Athens Farmers Market has been a staple of the region for 40 years.  Local farmers set up shop at the market and sell their produce directly to customers.

Prices at the Farmer's market are generally a little bit lower than the major grocery stores for organics and customers seem to enjoy the personal touch the market provides. 

Becky Rondy, owner of Green Edge Organic Gardens in Amesville, is one organics producer who sells at farmers markets.  Rondy says that prices for organic produce are usually higher because the process to grow organic fruits and vegetables can be labor-intensive. For example, the lack of pesticides used during the growing process forces farmers to pick off bugs by hand. 

The lack of pesticides and other chemicals can also mean lower yields for organic farmers, and often, Rondy says most government subsidies for farming go to non-organic farmers producing larger quantities of product. 

A few quick, unscientific comparisons of grocery store prices of organics and non-organics found that generally, organic products cost anywhere from 10% to 125% more expensive than their non-organic counterparts.  However, some organic grain products such as oatmeal or brown rice were up to 10% lower in price.

Assumption #2:  Organics are healthier

According to research from  the Mayo clinic, there are some indications that organic products are healthier, but the evidence is not conclusive.  Many studies have shown that organic produce does have more nutrients than non-organic produce.  But, Mayo Clinic researchers noted that often organic produce has to be trucked in from farther away, and some key nutrients, such as Vitamin C can degrade over time.

There are many health concerns about the use of pesticides and herbicides on produce and antibiotics in animals.  Mayo clinic researchers say that most medical experts agree the amount of pesticides lingering on produce doesn't pose a health risk, although that conclusion may not include young children.


Assumption #3:  Organics do not last as long as non-organics

Logic would indicate that the preservatives used in non-organics would make them last longer.  For this assumption, we set-up our own experiment.  We went to a major grocery store and purchased four pieces of fruit. We bought two apples, one organic and one non-organic, and two tomatoes, one organic and one non-organic.  The fruit was then set out in open on a counter to see which one rotted fastest.  We decided 4 weeks was a good timetable.


Week 1

After about a week, all four pieces of fruit seemed to be holding up just fine. 

Week 2

At two weeks, the apples were still fine, but the non-organic tomato started to rot in one spot. 

Week 3

By three weeks, the non-organic tomato was shriveled to half its original size and started to smell bad. The organic tomato was rotting, but not nearly as rapidly as the non-organic. The non-organic apple was still flawless, but the organic apple was starting to brown slightly.  

Week 4

At four weeks, both of the tomatoes were so rotted they had to be thrown away. The apples were both still edible.  The organic one looked like it was about ready to rot fully soon.  The non-organic still looked perfect.

Since the organic tomato lasted longer and the organic apple did not, the experiment offered no concrete results.  Other studies have shown that generally, the fresher the produce, the less difference in how long organics vs. non-organics last. 

Growing your own organics

David Holben, a nutrition expert and professor at Ohio University, recommends that people grow their own food on their property to eat healthy and combat the higher prices of many organics.  Holben and his family have a large garden where they grow their own produce.  They also keep bees and raise chickens.  According to Holben each chicken can produce 200-250 eggs a year, more than enough to help keep a family fed.