According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, organic farming is one of the fastest-growing segments of agriculture in America. The most recent estimate puts retail sales of organic foods at more than $7.8 billion, with nearly half purchased at conventional grocery stores. The reasons for the high demand in organic food vary directly with the people consuming them.
For Ann Arbor resident James Middrestaat, eating organic food products is not just presense, but rather a way of life. “I eat a totally vegan-style diet. We should eat the natural grain and fruits of our mother, not destroy the mother by killing off the creatures of the land,” Middrestaat added.
Middrestaat is not alone in aligning his diet with his views. People’s Co-op General Manager Carol Collins said her organic food store also concentrates on the ideology behind natural eating.
“Organic as a philosophy is about sustainable living. Many of the organic farms are smaller and family-run. Whereas other food is pumped full of chemicals, organic food is only made with natural ingredients and won’t harm your body in any way,” Collins said.
Besides voicing a strong belief in keeping the body’s nutrients natural, Collins said her store is also very concerned with the state of the enviornment.
“Organic food is not just for personal health but for the health of the environment. Organic (food) supports a cleaner environment, and people with cleaner farming practices. Some people who use chemicals get support from the government whereas organic farmers don’t.” She said that in addition to selling groceries, they have a concern for environment, concern for community, business honesty and cooperate ownership.
“We have a lot of integrity. We support the local grower and are aligned with peace and social justice movements. We try to support this along with the vegetarian and organic foods.” Collins added that her store’s vision and support of organic farmers is in sharp contrast with stores that sell products produced by traditional farming.
“With traditional farming, there are pesticides that pollute the streams,” Collins said. But these environmentally-safer farming practices come with a price, Engineering sophomore Kyle Marsh said.
“I know that (organic foods are) grown according to nature. And they try not to use chemicals. It is very healthy, (and) I wish I could get more of it, but it is expensive,” Marsh said.
But Dave Boutdtte, Ann Arbor spokesman for Whole Foods said there are ways to get around the high prices of organic food.
“Anyone selling organic food always has something on sale. In the produce department (at Whole foods) there are a minimum of 10 things on sale that are comparable to conventional products around the same price,” he added. If you’re going to shop organic, it pays to shop wisely and on sale. Go for sale products, that way you can save money and still get quality products.”
But Kroger manager Bill Rowe, said that although his grocery store had an organic section in their store, it will never sell exclusively organic products because organic foods are not available in the mass quantities needed for a store like Kroger.
Boutdtte also voiced this sentiment in saying that one large downside to organic produce is the limited availability.
“Only two percent of all produce produced in the United States is organic. So the availability of the products can be hard to come by,” he added.
LSA sophomore Mike Vasell said that despite the limited availability, eating organic food has become a growing trend that has forced many people to take notice.
“There is a lot of certification. They have the FDA inspecting the food to make sure it is up to organic standards and that the farmers are not using steroids in their farming. The government is taking notice,” Vasell said.
There is also debate over whether organic foods are in fact better than traditionally grown produce.
“Some (organic food) is superior; it depends on what you get. I can eat a raw tomato when it is organic, but regular ones taste like crap,” Vasell said.