Over the last 20 years organic food has grown from the wilty, bug-eaten pile of vegetables you could only get at the health food store to the fastest-growing sector of the food industry. Organic food isn't just for political radicals and hippies anymore -- it's for everyone! Except that it's so expensive.
What keeps organic food still out of reach for most folks?
Conversion: It takes three years for a conventional farm to convert to organic. During those three years the farm can't use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, but it also can't sell its food as certified organic.
Distribution: Because conventional farms dominate the food distribution system, it's harder and more expensive for smaller and organic farms to get their food from the farm onto store shelves. Plus, organic meat and dairy farmers have to find special Certified Organic plants to process their meat and milk. These plants are often farther away or more expensive to use.
Subsidies: Large, conventional farms receive government subsidies that smaller, organic farms don't get. In other words, your tax dollars help pay for fertilizers, pesticides, and corn for HFCS and cows.
Externalized costs: Large conventional farms do not pay for the damage they cause to the environment and to farm workers' health. Taxpayer dollars do.
Labor: It's more expensive to pay for people to pull out weeds than to kill weeds with pesticides.
What you can do: If you can afford it, vote with your dollar. As the organic market grows, organic products should become more affordable. Find alternative ways to shop, like CSAs and farmers' markets.
Beyond that, look out for the 2012 Farm Bill. This is an opportunity to level the playing field for organics, and a lot of people and organizations will be talking about it. Be ready to write your elected representatives about how YOU feel about making organic food more affordable. They're not going to do anything unless they hear from the people, so make your voice heard.
Image via epSos.de/Flickr