Breaking Down the Difference between Conventional, Organic, and Local Produce

Breaking Down the Difference between Conventional, Organic, and Local Produce

Today, as consumers, we are bombarded with so many options, especially when it comes to the types and kinds of food we are buying. There are differences between organic, conventional, and locally grown produce, and while it can be overwhelming and confusing to decide what the “right” type of food is to buy, this article should help you make those decisions a little easier!

There are two main things people think about when deciding between conventional, organic, or local produce: pesticide residue and nutrient value. 

Pesticide Residue

When plants are sprayed with pesticides, they absorb them in trace amounts, and can then be found in the food that we eat. A study conducted at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom found that pesticide residue was found on conventional crops four times more often than on organic food. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has also pored over the results of nearly 51,000 USDA and FDA tests for pesticides on 44 popular produce items. By doing this, they identified the types of fruits and vegetables that were more likely to have higher trace amounts of pesticide residue, and created a chart called “The Dirty Dozen” that depicts which fruits and vegetables have the highest pesticide levels. 

Organic farmers use more natural methods of pest control. They rotate their crops from year to year, so the pests have a harder time finding their food. Organic farms also manually walk through the rows of fruits and vegetables and physically pick off the bugs from their food, now that is dedication!

When buying produce locally, it is best to chat with the farmers about their methods of pest control. A lot of local farmers use organic methods, but cannot afford to get certified.

Nutrient Value

Conventional farming uses nitrogen-based fertilizers, which causes the vegetable to grow much quicker. This means the plant is spending most of its energy growing, rather than developing nutrients. 

With organic methods, the nitrogen present in composted soil is slowly released, and therefore plants grow at a normal rate, with their nutrients in balance. A study at Newcastle University was the first to find that there is a statistically significant, meaningful difference, with the amount of antioxidants found in organically grown food. 

Buying produce from local farmers has its benefits. Farmers often pick the fruit and vegetables they bring to the market when they are at their peak ripeness, which corresponds to their peak nutrient value. They are also usually picked the night before the market, some farmers are up all night picking and preparing the produce! 


The best produce you can eat is something that is locally grown and organic. As a general rule, the less the produce has to travel, the fresher and more nutrient-rich it will be. 

However, this is not always possible depending on the time of year, or your budget. What I recommend to my clients is to buy locally grown produce from the farmer’s markets in the summer, and talk to the farmers to figure out how often they are spraying their produce, and if their seeds are GMO. If budget is a concern, I recommend following the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen.

If you like this article, you will love Jesse Lane’s free eBook Healthy Eating on a Budget. It teaches you how to buy fresh fruits and veggies without breaking the bank and includes 4 bonus recipes from her cookbook Healthy Fresh Salads.


Jesse Lane Lee, CNP