A desire to eat more locally grown foods, where the production methods are known, has led to an increase in organic food offerings at a downtown market and is often the driving force behind residents’ purchases.
Julie Woessner, who lives downtown, does most of her grocery shopping at Gateway Market, Whole Foods and Dahl’s Food Mart. She says she buys a combination of organic and conventionally produced foods. More times than not, those items tend to be organic, but that’s not because Woessner thinks organic food is necessarily better for her family.
“Organic” is a production term. In general, organic products are required by law to be produced without chemicals — pesticides derived from natural sources may be used. Foods that are labeled organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture must go through a certification process. Some producers at markets may still deem their foods “organic,” even though they may not have gone through the certification process.
For Woessner, the driving decision in her purchases is often whether the item is locally produced and humanely raised. She admits price can sometimes be a factor — organically produced items tend to be more expensive — and she prefers to purchase organic greens.
Woessner buys locally grown foods from farmer’s markets when they are available and last year belonged to a community-supported agriculture program, where she received a box of fresh produce every week. She says she joined a CSA because she likes receiving food items she normally would not buy or try.
Kelli Russell, a student at Drake University’s Law School, also lives downtown and says she prefers to buy organic food, based upon her research, for two reasons: She thinks it’s healthier, and its production is better for the environment.
“When I can, I do buy organic,” she says. “I am a student, so it’s sort of a budget issue.”
Regardless of cost, Russell says she always buys organic dairy products that are free of hormones. When she’s not shopping at Gateway Market, she shops in the health food section of Hy-Vee.
Studies suggest there is little nutritional difference in organic v. conventional foods
A Stanford University study released last fall showed there was no significant difference in the vitamin content of organic foods compared to conventionally produced fruits and vegetables.
The study ran contrary to the reason many North Americans say they buy organic food. A 2010 Nielsen study reported that only about 24 percent of North Americans actively buy organic foods, well below the world average. However, those who did purchase organic foods say they did so because they were healthier, pesticide-free, more nutritious, environmentally friendly, tasted better, were not genetically modified and were supportive of small farmers.
The No. 1 reason for buying organic foods was because consumers believed they were healthier, followed by the belief such purchases would be free of pesticides and other toxins. The belief that organic foods are more nutritious also ranked high.
The increased demand for organic products is growing internationally. In 2012, the world market grew to $63 billion with demand exceeding supply, and sales have tripled in the United States during the past decade, according to Iowa State University Extension.
Iowa’s 467 organic farms had $60.7 million in sales in 2011, which made the state fifth in the nation for the number of certified organic farms, according to the USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service.
Organic status draws members to CSA farm
Wabi Sabi Farm is one of the certified organic farms in Iowa. This means no genetically modified crops are grown, and no synthetic chemicals are used. Instead, methods such as bird-netting, re-useable weed fabric and row covers are used over organically approved herbicides and pesticides. Owner/operator Ben Saunders sells his produce through a CSA and occasionally the Iowa Food Cooperative, a membership-based association that connects members with foods produced in central Iowa.
Saunders has worked on certified organic farms since 2005, and started Wabi Sabi on the site of the former Turtle Farm in 2013. He rents the farm, which is located in Granger.
“I think some of the reasons I chose to go organic is I have a really big environmental ethic, and I still had a desire of wanting to grow food for people in a production scale versus in a home garden scale,” he says.
The fact that Wabi Sabi Farm is certified organic — the land was already certified organic when he started renting it, though he worked at Turtle Farm when it went through the initial process — has been a draw to CSA members.
“I think people really like that reassurance,” he says about his farm being certified organic.
There are between 170 and 180 full share members and 200-210 total members. There are no plans to grow the CSA at this time. He says there are many other CSA starting in Iowa, and he likes the idea of smaller farms, rather than farms growing larger.
Saunders has his own personal ideas about whether to choose organic food over conventionally grown food, but he thinks scientifically there are still a lot of unknowns about the long-term effects of people eating some conventionally grown foods.
Personally, he prefers to eat food from local farmers that he knows about where it’s grown and how to ensure it fits with his values. Saunders says it doesn’t make sense to buy organic food from halfway across the world and then have it shipped to Iowa.
“I would like to get organic local,” he says. “If I can’t get organic local, then I get local food where I know the growers. Sure, they do use conventional chemicals, but they use them sparingly.”
Market increases offerings of organic foods based on customer response
Gateway Market, located on the edge of downtown, now offers exclusively organic or local produce.
“That’s what our customers told us,” says David Clemens, the store’s director. “We used to carry both regular conventional and organic, but ultimately customers told us they wanted organic. They didn’t want
The rest of the store is a mix of organic products and high-end specialty items.
Clemens, who has served as the store’s director for four years, has a background in natural and organic retail. Since he started at Gateway, he says the store’s products have changed. The store had more mainstream products at first and fewer natural, organic ones. Since then, they’ve changed the products they carry and have doubled the selection and variety to meet various trends and requests including those for gluten-free, paleolithic and low-carb diets.
“For me it’s just listening to my customers,” Clemens says.