I’ve been working on an organic farm over the past few years and one of the most common comments I hear from people around me is how expensive organic produce is…
This got me thinking. Why does organic veg appear to be “expensive” to some people?
One thing I know for sure is that you don’t go into organic vegetable growing if you want to make lots of money. It’s a lifestyle and a choice. A much safer and healthy one in my opinion and that of science.
I’ve heard people comment on how much the owner of the farm I work in must make. To whomever wishes to know, let me tell you that he’s probably lucky to even pay himself minimum wage once all the hours of work he puts in have been added up.
This kind of remark is simply an uneducated assumption.
No, organic vegetables are not expensive. Non-organic vegetables are too cheap.
You simply have to cut corners to make items as cheap as they are in supermarkets.
Credit: Luke Heron, Helen’s Bay Organic Vegetables
1. Nutritional Quality
This by far should be one of your primary concerns for value for money, for your own health and that of your family & friends. It’s true, you are what you eat. Many studies have been done in recent years to determine the quality of vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy products whether organic or not (Scalbert, Johnson & Saltmarsh, 2005).
First of all, organic produce in the EU must be grown in soil. This means the plant can naturally draw the resources and minerals it needs while creating, in some cases, a symbiotic relationship between its roots and the healthy soil fungi. As for toxic chemicals, they can not be used in organic growing. While this is not a requirement it is a good industry practice. Skeptics who think otherwise can act upon their concerns at the cost of their own health! I for one have seen at first hand the justifiable extent of limitations in organic farming.
For example, tomatoes grown in hydroponics do not get fed naturally because their roots are dangling in running water treated with chemicals and fertilisers. Tomatoes grown in healthy soil will draw the minerals it needs naturally. If grown in depleted soil the plants will lack this vital nutrition. Some farms, like Helen’s Bay Organic or Culmore Organic Farm, test their organic soils frequently to make sure they are abiding by the rules and also to check the quality and health of the soil.
Ever wonder why so many vegetables in shops are tasteless?
It’s often due to hydroponics and low ability for a plant to create its compounds…
Another reason is that the varieties have been bred into themselves in order to make plants that grow fast & retain water for weight, so they can be sold for more money.
Studies are pretty conclusive on the significance of the differences between Organic and Non-Organic:
Organic crops are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants than non-organic grown ones (Organic Soil Association 2020).
If a plant is stressed during its lifetime, such as weather, disease or insects, it will ramp up its natural defences. Part of which are the antioxidants (and many other health promoting plant compounds). These are the very same antioxidants you hear about which fight oxidation and free radicals which cause stress to the body and can bring on diseases (notably tumours). Antioxidants also do many, many more things in the body such as aiding in the prevention of tumours and disease, balancing hormones and fighting infections.
So let’s do a fun and loose experiment to see if you are getting your money’s worth based on antioxidants in organic and non-organic vine tomatoes from a widely known UK chain store.
Non-organic Vine Tomatoes cost £2.75/kg
Organic Vine Tomatoes cost £4.25/kg
If you add the 60% difference in antioxidants to the cost of non-organic vine tomatoes the price will be £4.4/kg. So this means that the store is selling Organic vine tomatoes cheaper than it could be when considering their content of antioxidants. What a bargain! And it’s sometime cheaper in a farm shop or seasonally!
What I’ve done here is not exactly a scientific experiment, but the point I’m trying to make is that the money you pay for organic veg is definitely worth the nutritional value. Let alone the beneficial health and environmental impacts compared to the toxic chemicals used and ingested in non-organic practices.
Organic milk & meats contain 50% more Omega-3, thus equalising a little more the important omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.
No need to go in detail, most of us understand the importance of Omega-3 as an anti-inflammatory fatty acid which the body uses. If we have too much Omega-6 (and you most definitely do if you live in the West) then this will impact you (Newcastle University, 2020).
2. Industry Practices & Environmental Impact
Being certified organic means you need adhere to a strict method of farming. Organic Soil Association or the Irish Organic Association are strict about how organic growers grow in order to make sure everything is, well… organic – meaning free of man-made chemicals and using sustainable practises which preserve nature and wildlife around the area.
By Credit: Luke Heron, Helens Bay Organic farm, Northern Ireland. A vegetable field.
Any new land that is to be classed organic requires at minimum of 2 years of conversion and green manure growth. Gov.uk state that it is minimum 2 years for annual or ruminant grazing, or three years for established perennial soft, top and vine fruits . Seeds must be organic or you aren’t allowed to grow the plant without special permission. No chemicals can be used, fertiliser must be organic (e.g. chicken poop for nitrates therefore needs to come from an organic chicken farm). Since you don’t use pesticides or weed killers, you need to hand hoe, use appropriate machinery or carefully weed the beds by hand. You need to check for pests and control any situation that may occur, constantly. Our best friends are the worms who do half the work in fertilising the place. Even at that, on occasion some crops will fail. And this is part of the whole experience of organic growing. All this takes time, care and effort. For this reason, Organic farms can’t afford large salaries, usually not much more than minimum wage, and often need help from woofers or volunteers.
Vast Monocropping will leave land lifeless.
While some regulations exist, non-organic practises tend to happen in the form of mono-cropping which requires the devastation of an eco-system in order to make the landscaping changes necessary for large crops. Some smaller farms are non-organic too and do this practise because it’s much cheaper than being organic. They often get subsidies from governments or corporations.
The soil and crops are sprayed with cheap fertilisers, weed killers, pesticides and/or insecticides. Without listing the chemicals themselves, it doesn’t take long to find out the ones used in the UK and EU which are directly linked to ecological collapse, death of bees, birds, worms and other pollinators. These are often dangerous to human health too. The soil is often depleted of important minerals which means the vegetables or fruit have less nutritional value. The lack of resources in the soil often lowers the flavour of plants and stops them from producing the secondary metabolites that give taste and health value. Less minerals and less nutrition available to the plant means less for us consumers too.
All this makes the task easier. The beautiful showroom vegetables growing on the fields haven’t been touched by fungi, insects or anything really (nothing wants to be in contact with the toxic chemicals, except for humans apparently). This means that weeding is not required & minimal work needs done compared to organic farming practices. This also gives the ability for very few people to grow large amounts of produce which can then be sold cheaper while giving much more capital to the owner.
It is clear that many non-organic practises involve cutting corners so that the farmer can make extra bucks for bulk using less labour. In other cases this happens due to the pressures of retailers’ demands and shear amount of produce a farmer needs to grow in order to make ends meet (and to pay for all the fancy expensive machines they are told are needed). In fact, the toxic chemicals used to grow these perfect looking vegetables have been absorbed by the plant and into its fruit.
Without a doubt, these chemicals harm the body and wreak havoc in the gut, liver and generally put pressure on the immune system, both causing acute and chronic effects (why are so many people allergic to things these days? And how come our modern bodies don’t decompose even half as fast as our grandparents? Mmmh). Even the World Health Organisation voices concern over these (Reference at the bottom of the page below). All this happens so that one farm can make more money with minimal labour, so that corporations get their cheap food to sell in supermarkets. Yet the produce is often only sold for a few pennies / cents cheaper in the supermarket than the organic counterparts.
It won’t take you long to find the extent of damage caused to the environment either. Notably on pollinators such as bees and long term depletion of otherwise healthy soil and ecosystems. Heavy lobbying allow these chemicals to be used, still today, despite the environmental and health implications.
One of the most noticeable of them are the waxed fruit and veg during packaging. While some organic practises allow this for preservation, they won’t allow certain waxes that are not naturally and organically sourced (such as bee’s wax or plant source).
Waxed Fruit and veg to be concerned about are avocados, citrus, mangos, apples and a few other.
The non-organic commercial industry uses cheaply sourced waxes such as the common Shellac bug wax (excretion from an insect harvested in India) and Petroleum wax (yes.. from crude petroleum oil).
Credit: Luke Heron. Apples from local shop, same variety. Left apple shows wax after boiling water has been poured on it. Right apple is how it looked before.
My Wax Experiment
The beautiful looking non-organic apple on the right of the picture was bought in a local store.
It looked like something out of a fairy-tale, however, after I poured boiling water on it I began to see this thin film of wax melting away and leaving white patches all over the skin of the fruit (apple on the left).
Without knowing this, consumers nationwide and maybe even yourself eat petroleum or bug wax every day.
It really doesn’t take you to be a genius to understand that you are most definitely getting your money’s worth with Organic Vegetables. It just requires one to be informed.
Organic vegetables have much more nutritional value due to the richness in minerals, bacteria, protozoa and mycelium in the ground. They have far less health & environmental implications too as there are no toxic chemicals poured into the soils or sprayed on the crops. In fact, they are quite cheap when you think of it, especially when considering the amount of effort and work put into growing them. Beyond this, you are usually also supporting small farms and teams who believe in the sustainable practices that come with Organic farming.
It was in recent years that the Newcastle University in the UK made huge progress in key differences between organic and non-organic produce, antioxidant & omega-3 differences. Find out more here.
I do always like to add that if you can afford to spend £/€300 on a mobile phone, £30+ on a monthly hair cut or a yearly subscription of Netflix & plenty of take-aways, there shouldn’t be an issue spending a tiny bit more on healthier foods and supporting your local farmers and food artisans.
For more info on the wee farm I work at here at Helen’s Bay in Northern Ireland, follow this link to Helen’s Bay Organic website.
- It’s Nutritionally Different. (2020). Retrieved 17 February 2020, from https://www.soilassociation.org/organic-living/why-organic/its-nutritionally-different/
- Scalbert, A., Johnson, I., & Saltmarsh, M. (2005). Polyphenols: antioxidants and beyond. The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, 81(1), 215S-217S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/81.1.215s
- Newcastle University (2020). Study finds clear differences between organic and non-organic products. Retrieved 17 February 2020, from https://www.ncl.ac.uk/press/articles/archive/2016/02/organicandnon-organicmilkandmeat/
- Organic versus Non-organic. (2014). Retrieved 17 February 2020, from https://research.ncl.ac.uk/nefg/QOF/crops/documents/Organic%20vs%20non%20organic.pdf
- World Health Organisation. (2020). Pesticide residues in food. Retrieved 17 February 2020, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/pesticide-residues-in-food
This article is intended for educational purposes and contains general information so that readers may learn new things, and with the information to empower and allow room for informed choices. However, if you think you may be suffering from any medical condition you should seek immediate medical attention from your doctor or qualified naturopathic practitioner (such as a registered herbalist). You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information on this website.