(Image by Martin Winkler from Pixabay)
By Lauren Louie
Before working at a farmers market, I thought organic was a marketing scheme. I thought it sold premium carrot sticks for an inflated price when I could purchase the same vegetable for 99 cents in the everyman grocery aisle. I thought farmers markets only happened on the weekends when I was available after sleeping in late. As it turns out, I was wrong and my former job selling organic strawberries for P&K Farms has textured my impression of what I eat, where food comes from, and where it goes.
Here are three major things I’ve learned from my farmers market experience:
1. Farming is difficult.
If you are a native Californian like me, you might imagine farming as a thing that happens very far away, probably in the central valley and definitely in the Midwest. The produce in California is exceptional and it isn’t because the ground is fertile and forgiving. Whether a farm is organic or not, the growing process is elaborate, consuming, and specific to individual crops. The factors that affect the yield go beyond the changing weather and seem to vary from minor to major in terms of consequence and success. Too much sun, too little rain, thick morning fog, or seasonal pests; there are a variety of threats and each week is a new form of defense. None of that accounts for the inherently long learning curve and factors, such as machinery or labor, that are as crucial as they are prone to uncertainty. The farming industry is full of whack-a-mole-like obstacles and the physical toll alone is intimidating.
2. The real difference between organic and conventional.
Given the multitude of challenges that farmers face, it’s no surprise that they use tools like pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides to combat produce damage. Conventional farming uses those tools, organic farming uses organic versions of them and each has its own sets of pros and cons. Conventional farms use pesticides and fertilizer to yield more product to sell at a lower price point, but the runoff pollutes waters and, over time, severely degrades the soil. There is a risk, depending on where the product is grown, in varying levels of chemical pesticide residue. The result of organic farming is better soil quality, reduced pollution, no chance of chemical pesticide residue, and a wider variety of plants that enhance biodiversity. However, the yield is much less and necessitates more land to meet demand. Whether or not you should shop organic depends on the consumer’s concerns.
With all the worries of our day-to-day lives, it’s easy to take food for granted. It’s in stores under fluorescent lights and it will be there tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. I’ve seen firsthand how the produce is grown, how it gets there, and the work that it takes. I’ll be buying organic, even if it’s a little more expensive.