Living in Minnesota, eating only local seems like an impossible task. Also, with a small child still developing her tastes, I want to expose her to a wide variety of produce, and buying local or seasonal-only is hard to do. (In my fantasy world, I would buy all local and organic and can them for use in the winter, but that's not happening!)
Since I choose to eat "out of season" foods, I face a further dilemma:
Do I buy organic from Mexico or California, or a local conventionally grown product?
Now that the farm-fresh tomatoes are over, what to do!? Bushel Boy brands- a Minnesota company- sells tomatoes and lettuce at co-ops, Whole Foods and Target. Cherry tomatoes are a favorite for my daughter, and we just had delicious large tomato slices on BLT's. Their "live" lettuce mix which comes with the roots and dirt are great and stay fresh a long time which helps with meal planning.
I wrote to Bushel Boy to ask more about what they do. Aside from supporting a Minnesota company, they seem to be really dedicated to making a tasty, safe, local product, which employs Minnesotans, and importantly reduces shipping. Trucking a tomato from California is a heavy carbon load. In addition to reusing water at the facility, here is an excerpt of other practices at Bushel Boy:
"We really do not want to use chemicals on our plants. We pollinate with live bees and if we spray we risk killing off all our hives which is very expensive. Also, chemicals weaken our plants and make them less resistant to stress. We have 3 full-time people that we call "scouts." They monitor our plants constantly for insects and signs of stress and disease. If they find an insect problem, we monitor it. If necessary we will bring in "predator" insects to take care of the problems ones. Once the problem is taken care of, the predator insects die out. There have been times when we've had to spray. All chemicals we use are FDA approved for use on tomato plants. We have, and follow, strict guidelines for the use of ANYTHING that goes on our plants for the protection of our employees, our plants, and of course, our customers!"
In addition, Zoie, a local food producer from Lucille's Kitchen Garden had the following to say on the topic:
" I generally prioritize local over organic with a preference for local sustainable. I do this for a couple of reasons. First of all I believe there is a huge flavor difference. I have my daughter pick out our produce by smell which gets her really excited about preparing our food. I have found that when I simply ask her which smells better, it is always the freshest. Secondly, food miles are currently my number one "green concern." Since we don't have a ton of large vegetable farmers with the exception of Bushel Boy, most of our local produce is grown in a sustainable manner. I should say that I am very thankful for Bushel Boy for offering us tomatoes that taste like tomatoes earlier in the season! Controls in other countries vary as far as organic goes and one must factor in general pollution as well. Thirdly, I like to keep money in our area. I think it is important to keep a good variety of industry in MN, so I try to keep as much money in the local economy to encourage that. "
Kristin Hamaker, personal chef and owner of Farm to Fork agrees, "I worked as a farm hand for an entire year for a farm that operated under the strictest organic practices. I mean we did so much the old-fashioned way, without any sprays or toxins. And yet our farmer, Charlie, could still not call his farm organic because he could not afford the certification. But he did talk to people about his methods and that satisfied them. Organic is important for our health, but local is too, particularly for the health of the community. Local foods, especially organic ones, just usually taste better and are more nutritious, because they haven't been sitting on a truck across country for any number of days. Fresh is flavor and nutritionally better."
Hope that helps and doesn't just add to the confusion!