Ask Dan: Organics & Local Produce

By April 30, 2010Ask Dan

We always appreciate the feedback – both positive and negative – about your Terra Organics experience.  And if there’s ever a question in your mind about our products or service, we’re happy to take the time to answer it.  Earlier this week we received the following query from Hollis V. of Maple Valley:

“I noticed that the Small and Large boxes had apples and pears from South America.  (The PNW box, of course, had apples and pears from Washington).  I can understand getting certain things out of season from far away places (like mangoes from Mexico) but it seems weird to bring apples and pears, so abundant in Washington and that keep for long periods of time, from another hemisphere.   I was hoping you all could shed some light on this decision.”

Let me start by saying that I don’t believe in proselytizing: there is a wide spectrum of beliefs and attitudes about what is (and is not) acceptable to eat.  I’ve never thought it was our role (and I don’t want the responsibility) of saying what is the “right” decision when, for the most part, it really just comes down to a personal preference.

When we started Terra Organics in 2004, the only promise that we made to our customers, and the only prerequisite we established for the food we purchased, is that it had to be certified organic.  We know there is good food produced by farms that choose not to obtain organic certification.  But we decided that  organic certification would serve as the agreed upon lowest common denominator.  All of the farms we purchase from do not use pesticides, insecticides, synthetic fertilizers and that is good for our environment, the farmworkers, and our bodies.

The next level of standards is much more contentious.  It seems the trend is towards local food.  For a while it was simply taste.  For me, personally, it’s a combination of the two.  I really like mangoes.  I also know (more intimately than most) the benefits of eating locally: reduced carbon footprint, better taste, higher nutritional value, supporting the local economy, saving local farmland, revitalizing rural economies, etc.

So, in summary, the choices are difficult.  And as to the very specific question of why apples and pears from South America right now?  The answer is twofold:

1.)  The local apples and pears, despite the numerous advances in controlled atmosphere storage techniques, are deteriorating in quality very quickly at this point.  They have been off the trees since October (at the latest) and they just don’t taste very good anymore.

2.)  Those advanced storage techniques require an immense amount of energy to keep the fruit from spoiling six months or more after it’s been picked from the tree.  The fruit from South America, that is just now being harvested, is immediately put on large barges and shipped to ports around the world.  I am not aware of any study that has compared the carbon footprint of the two comparable apples that could be found in our cooler right now, but I would venture to guess that the apple from Argentina has a lesser negative impact on the environment.

That said, I’m really, really excited for when local strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, peaches, cherries, and apples (once again) will be fresh and local.  That is the best of both worlds.

Again, any questions or feedback, please send it our way.


Author Terra

More posts by Terra

Leave a Reply