Organic Food Really a Better Buy?
'World News' Launches Organic Food Series as
Industry Moves From Small Farms to Major Retailers
By BETH TRIBOLET
MARIN COUNTY, Calif., Nov. 22, 2006 - - Marin
County organic beef rancher Dave Evans stands in
a pasture calling his cows, and it's a sight that
could make an old cowhand cry.
Watch "World News" Nov. 27, 28 for our special series on organic food
"Hey boys. Hey girls. Come on," he said. They
look and moo, then they come ambling in. No
In Marin County, often called the birthplace of
organic food, cows are so happy they come when
The lush seaside community north of San Francisco
embraced organic farming decades ago and
continues to promote the foods as the
fast-growing industry expands well beyond the
Propelled by food scares over mad cow disease and
E.coli infection, organics have boomed
nationwide, growing by as much as 20 percent
annually. Americans spent $14 billion on organic
food last year, according to the Organic Trade
In some regions, the demand for organic products exceeded supply.
"Most people come into the organic marketplace
and the key motivating factors are health and
nutrition. That's the message that is really
getting out to consumers," said Sam Fromartz,
author of "Organic Inc." about the growth of the
organic foods marketplace.
Setting a Good Example for the Industry
In Marin, farmers run successful small organic
operations that sell to local markets and
high-end restaurants, because the Bay Area, home
to fresh California cuisine, takes healthful food
seriously. The major selling point in organic is
the lack of pesticides, fertilizers, growth
hormones, radiation or bioengineered products.
Federal organic standards require that animals
have access to outdoor pasture. Marin farmers are
so committed to organic principles that they
often go above and beyond basic requirements by
giving their cows room to roam in fresh air and
bucolic environs, and providing them with
excellent nutrition and an overall good life.
Anita Sauber, who works for the county to certify
that Marin's farmers uphold U.S. Department of
Agriculture organic standards, said this group
does not require a lot of policing. In fact her
employer, the Marin County Department of
Agriculture, has rarely had to issue sanctions
for failing to meet organic standards.
Six years ago when they began issuing
certifications, there were only a few hundred
acres of organic farms. Today it's pushing 20,000
acres, still only 20 percent of the county but
Paying More 'Worth the Money
But who can afford organic food ?
A major complaint about these items is high
prices. By one estimate some organic products can
cost as much as 50 percent more than conventional
grocery products, as the extra time and energy
used to grow organic food combined with
small-scale production leads to higher prices.
But that's not turning away all customers. Los
Angeles resident Nicole Lewis is raising two
boys, ages 1 and 4, and said she first began
buying organic food after her first baby was born.
"Everything changes when you turn into a mother
and you are 100 percent responsible for a human
being," she said.
In a recent shopping trip to natural foods
wholesaler Whole Foods, she discussed the
difference between grass-fed and organic beef
with the butcher before deciding to buy a cut of
organic filet mignon for the holidays.
Looking at baby Isaiah in the stroller she said,
"It's worth the money to know that I'm not going
to be giving him pesticides. If there's an
organic option I'm pretty much always going to
pick the organic option."
Last spring megaretailer Wal-Mart began offering
mainstream brand organic foods, signaling the
products on the shelves with special green signs.
Wal-Mart's idea is to bring the cost down for
those on tighter budgets.
The company promises the best prices in the
organic marketplace. According to Fromartz, this
is evidence that "organic has really gone into
But megaretailers in the organic family are not
always welcome by the organic diehards.
Dave Evans in Marin favors growing and selling
locally, and worries that when organics go
mainstream quality is lost and the environment
suffers. "Does it make sense to fly an organic
product 2,000 miles when you can buy an equally
good organic product right down the road?" he
He said local food distribution saves on fossil
fuels both in costs and pollutants released into
the atmosphere. He raises cows at his Marin Sun
Farms, and also sells the beef at his butcher
shop in nearby Point Reyes Station.
He estimates that his beef never travels more
than 200 miles, allowing him to cultivate rapport
with his clients. His farthest customer, Stanford
University, buys hamburger patties
"I am a relationship marketer, which means I sell
to everyone I know. I know my customers," he said.
And he promises that you can taste the difference
in the meat he sells. Holding a slab of rib eye
with a line of flavorful fat intersecting it, he
said he also knows a great organic zinfandel to
go with it. You can bet that with neighbors like
the Napa and Sonoma wine countries, the grapes
were also locally grown.
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