(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.

3. Sustainability is key.
Over the years, efforts to move toward greener practices have increased in priority as the effects of global warming continue to worsen. Sustainability has touched every industry and is now a key point in how we imagine the future. Because roughly 38 percent of the global land surface is dedicated to farmland, sustainable farming practices are crucial in reducing the impact on the earth (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2020). Tools like Monarch Tractors can minimize damage by reducing the carbon footprint of traditional diesel-powered tractors. It’s a clean energy, battery-powered machine that has the AI capabilities to till a route with a driverless option. It’s economically viable, environmentally conscious, and a solution for those who are thinking about the future of farming. We can’t keep the same expectations in quantity and quality without considering the kind of pressure that puts on farmers and the environment. An already challenging industry can expect more and new difficulties exacerbated by climate change. We rely on farms for food so our concern for their ability to do their job is far less removed than it seems. If we want to continue as is, sustainable farming practices have the power to make a monumental difference.

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.