Is organic really better for you? That is a question many people wonder when they compare prices at the grocery store. Contradicting what you may think, some experts in the nutrition field will say no, while others say yes. It’s confusing who to believe. In theory most of us want our families to eat the best food possible but the price tag can deter even the most informed. However, I’m going to make a case for why you should buy organic especially if you can afford to.
Stonyfield Farm Tour
I recently was invited to visit 3 organic farms in Vermont with Stonyfield Organic. To say it was eye opening is an understatement.
Basically what organic farming means is that farmers focus on building healthy soil and working in partnership with nature, instead of relying on toxic persistent pesticides and synthetic chemicals. For the sake of this post with Stonyfield, I’m going to focus more on dairy farms than produce here.
Stonyfield opened in 1983 as a school to train farmers to farm organically and they began selling yogurt to keep the school afloat.
The first farm we visited was run by a woman named Julie who is the strongest grandma I have ever met. Her farm is one of the smallest that is part of Stonyfield’s direct supply program which makes up 20% of their needs and comes from 31 family farms in the North East. Julie is retiring this fall and the farm will be transferred to a young local couple with the help of Stonyfield.
The direct supply program is pretty awesome and gave me an idea why Stonyfield is a b Corp. They really care about these families, these farms and the cows in addition to their own products. Being a farmer is a tough job and Stonyfield visits these farms 3-4 times a year to ensure animal welfare, milk quality, cleanliness as well as maintain relationships with the farmers and help them with whatever their needs may be. Good pasture management is the key to profitability. The price of conventional milk is not stable and neither is the demand. As an organic farmer with Stonyfield, the price is predetermined and they will never tell you they are not going to pay you at the end of the week because they do not need your milk. Yes, that is what can happen to conventional farmers!
Organic farms are inspected annually to maintain their organic status and Stonyfield helps their farmers make sure they are up to standard.
When we met Julie, her cows were grazing in the pasture. I tried to get a cute picture and this is what I got.
Buying organic is like voting with your dollars and when you do, you’re supporting farms who spend the extra money to treat their cows well and as a result increases their lifespan and reduces risk of disease.
Seeing these cows was such a change from what you often see in the media these days when it comes to farming. Organic farms place animal welfare at the highest level possible and organic milk comes from cows that are pasture-raised and are not treated with antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones.
So Julie had a hard time deciding if she should switch to become an organic farmer because she cared so much about her cows. She’s actually a vegetarian. She didn’t love the idea that if one of her cows got sick she wouldn’t be able to provide antibiotics to help her feel better. For this reason, not all family run small farms are organic but the surest way to avoid pesticide residue is to choose organic milk which leads to the creation of antibiotic resistent residue so when you might actually need them for your own health, your body no longer responds to them.
Julie shared that with the switch, there was greater profit and the cows did get sick a lot less. Of course if one needs medicine, they give it to them but the cow must then leave the farm and go to a conventional one. Organic cows are still treated with vaccines, given acupuncture should they need it as well as other holistic remedies like garlic to treat mastitis.
Animal welfare aside, organic milk has 62% higher Omega-3 fatty acids than conventional milk.
The reason the organic milk has a higher quality of good fats comes down to the cow’s diet. If the cow is getting most of it’s nutrition from grass, it will be higher in healthy fatty acids since grass is naturally high in them. Organic cows must be allowed to actively graze for at least 120 days a year. They go outside as much as they can but it’s not always possible in the winter months.
Thirty percent of organic cows’ diets must come from pasture. Typically though about 50% of their diet comes from fresh pasture, 40% from alfalfa and hay and 10% from oats, barley and grains for the colder months when the ground is frozen or covered in snow. Certified grass-fed cows get 100% of their diet from grazing and is much harder to get than the organic certification.
Lastly, organic farming is better for the environment.
Organic soil can sequester 26% more carbon than conventional soils. Agriculture causes 20% of greenhouse gases. The solution is in healthy soil. Removing carbon can help slow climate change. So the more organic soil, the less carbon going into the atmosphere. Organic practices build and maintain soil organic matter better than conventionally managed soils. Organic farming can help mitigate climate change.
It’s also better for the bees! Organic practices increase pollinator health. Colony Collapse disorder has been linked to pesticides from conventional agriculture systems. Up to 161 pesticides have been identified in some bees’ pollen and in their honey. In case you didn’t know, some pesticides are known carcinogens.
Stonyfield is committed to fighting climate change and tried to reduce the amount of waste they produce by using sustainable packaging that is made with PLA, a plant based plastic
If anything, I learned on this trip that it is HARD to be a farmer. It was kind of a wake up call for me in all honesty.
Before kids, I was adamant they would only eat organic foods. I stuck to my plan the first year of Tommy’s life and then suddenly he was at daycare eating mini muffins I assumed were not organic, goldfish by the handful from our gym, popsicles artificially colored from our pediatrician after getting shots, and my plan felt like it was falling apart. When Connor came around, he got what Tommy liked but since I’ve been back from Vermonty, I’ve been only buying organic.
We had the honor to have dinner the last night of our trip in Vermont with the co-founder of Stonyfield, Gary Hirshberg. He was fascinating to listen to, and one of the bloggers asked him what should she tell her audience who cannot afford organic and his response surprised me.
“Buy organic if you can afford it.”
So in his theory using basic economics, the more organic food we buy, the demand will go up and the price will come down making it accessible for more people. More people avoid carcinogenic pesticides, more cows will be treated fairly, farmers will be more financially stable and the environment will benefit.
So did I convince you yet?
Lastly, Stonyfield is a pretty amazing company. Their new initiative is to make Americas fields safe again. They are working with communities across America and experts in the field to make all fields Organic by stopping the use of harmful pesticides on playing fields. Their goal is to help communities across America take the necessary steps to convert to organic field maintenance and empower families everywhere by providing tools and resources to change locally and in your own backyard. To learn more, visit stonyfield.com/playfree. You can enter your own town to be the next location for organic fields.
I’ve always hated the idea of my kids playing in grass that was treated with pesticides and while we do not currently have a yard, if we move out, I know I will be looking for an organic landscaper.
If I haven’t sold you on the awesomeness of Stonyfield yet, their products are pretty amazing as well. Their 100% grass fed Greek Yogurt is my go to right now and the boys love their pouches and tubes for lunch. Now that Connor is weaned off breastmilk and not drinking any milk, I’m trying to make sure he has enough calcium and probiotics in his diet to support his growing little body! Stay tuned for a new video featuring my favorite lunch ideas for toddlers and elementary school aged kids!
This post is sponsored by Stonyfield.