Organic foods: Are they worth the extra price?

December 9, 2017 — by Andrew Lee and Sean Oh

Shoppers browse at the local farmers market at West Valley College.

Every Saturday, Saratoga residents line up to buy fresh foods and organic produce from local farmers at the West Valley College Farmers Market. More than 60 farmers maintain stands in the campus lot and sell items like organic apples for $1.59 per pound, organic lemons for $2.48 per pound and organic broccoli for $2.44 per pound.

Without much thought about the benefits or extra price of organic foods,  customers line up to pay at least 20 percent more money for locally grown organic food. At a discount supermarket like Smart and Final, nonorganic apples, lemons and broccoli can be purchased for 99 cents per pound.

ophomore Oscar Khowong, a Farmers Market regular, questions whether these costs are justified when cheaper, non-organic alternatives are readily available in stores like Safeway.

“[My family and I] visit the local farmers market often, but I don’t think that organic foods are worth a premium price,” Khowong said. “I’m not really sure what the differences between inorganic and organic foods are, but you always have inorganic foods available for a reasonable price.”

According to Elijah Ray, a farmer who sells organic fruits at the market for Prevedelli Organic Farms in Watsonville, one positive of organic foods is that they provide many health benefits.

“There are a lot of organic foods that can help with asthma, blood pressure, blood flow, hernias and just about anything that can go on in the body,” Ray said. “You can also use [organic foods] to help detox your immune system and make it stronger.”

One major advantage of organic foods over inorganic foods is that they aren’t toyed with genetically, allowing years of immunities and evolution to grow naturally with the plant, Ray said. Because of this, he said organic foods help induce acquired immunities to different pathogens and diseases by introducing less harmful bacteria into people’s bodies. In turn, this creates immunities to viruses before they ever strike or invade your body.

Many of these health benefits, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), come from the extra work that farmers have to go through in order to maintain the certified organic seal — and organic farms say the extra labor, time and land required are responsible for the steep price tag. With less pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, organic farmers must use complex crop rotation systems.

The tedious process of sustaining an organic farm certification includes sending applications to the USDA annually and undergoing regular inspections from USDA certified agents.

According to sfgate.com, pesticides and chemicals used in agriculture have been shown to be correlated to cases of brain cancer and lung disease.

Farmers like Ray believe that being a successful organic farmer is more about the knowledge than just meeting the minimum requirements.

“Normally what it takes to sell an organic product is to really know your produce and know what you’re selling: where it originates, how you grow it, and whether it’s annual or or seasonal,” Ray said. “It all correlates with how it is grown and what type of soil is used.”

Additionally, he said organic farming has a positive impact on the environment, as the regulations of the certification inhibits the use of toxic chemicals. The USDA gives no specific claim that organic foods are more healthy than inorganic foods.

One reason that Ray especially finds compelling for eating organic foods is their variability. Comparing inorganic foods to store-bought pies, he said they taste decent, but unlike homemade pies, they always have the same flavor — unlike the more variable homemade variety

For some local families, like junior Chloe Peng’s, purchasing and supporting organic products has become a routine. But Peng said the higher prices for organic foods are sometimes hard to contend with.

“You get the same product from non-organic foods, so I would just save the money,” Peng said.

Unlike the massive difference in price, the difference in quality is not as noticeable, Peng said. Aware of the extra care and work that goes into the production of organic foods, Peng said the lack of chemicals used in the growth of these foods isn’t enough to warrant a premium price.

Sophomore Sally Kim, who doesn’t attend the farmers markets or buy organic produce, has also found the high prices to be  unjustified.

“I’ve never really been able to tell the difference between inorganic and organic foods,” Kim said. “I feel that organic foods only reach a small percentage of the community and even then many people aren’t aware of any benefits organic foods provide.”

But even with all the uncertainty over the true value of organic goods, local farmers see a strong niche for their products.

“I think people should go organic, considering that we are organic beings made of organic substances,” Ray said. “As an organic farmer, you really want to be able to present what you’re growing with pride.”

 

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