-Organic farmers are not taking kindly to a recent study that found little difference between organic and conventional produce.
Published by a Stanford University researcher, the study looked at the vitamins and minerals in fruits and vegetables. It found no difference, and therefore no need to spend extra on usually more expensive organic produce.
Several local organic farmers said the study is flawed and does not address the benefits of organic farming.
"My initial reaction to the study was frustration," said Ron Holterholm, owner of Holterholm Farm in Jefferson, "but I'm not really surprised."
Individual studies have shown both great differences and no differences between organic and conventional foods, Holterholm said, so when all are grouped together they tend not to show much difference.
But organic production is more that just higher-quality foods, Holterholm said.
"It is a system approach to food production that promotes environmental health, soil building, humane treatment of animals and cleaner living for the farmers producing the product," Holterholm said. "In conventional products, many, if not all of these parts of the system are routinely overlooked for the sake of cheap food that our culture expects and our government promotes."
The premise of the study was flawed, said Rick Hood, owner of Summer Creek organic farm in Thurmont.
Organic farming has been bastardized by the conglomeration of such a large sample, including imported food, Hood wrote in an email.
"It is an inherent flaw in the national organic system, and that is why I was against (organic) certification being controlled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture from the beginning," Hood said.
Organic farmers have long known not to make nutrition claims, Hood said.
"Food in national chains, no matter which method of growing, loses nutritional value as it ages," Hood said. "The studies tend to not look at minor elements in the food that are over time needed to be healthy."
Brian Biggins, co-owner of Miolea Organic Farm in Adamstown, pointed out the distinction between small conventional farmers and big corporate farms, Biggins said.
Local farmers feed their family with the products they grow, and their children and grandchildren play in the fields and waterways on the property, Biggins said.
"I know these farmers are much more judicious when it comes to using fungicides, insecticides and herbicides," Biggins said. "I feel comfortable buying my sweet corn from Mayne's Tree Farm and fruit from Catoctin Mountain Orchards."
Conventional food contains trace amounts of carcinogenic chemicals that are allowed by federal standards, Biggins said. "Yet, every year we find that what was once approved is now harming us. The list of approved, then disapproved fungicides, insecticides, additives and preservatives just keeps growing.
Big industrial farms also use harmful herbicides, he said.
Then there is the cost argument; tax dollars pay to clean up waterways and fields because of industrial farming practices, Biggins said.
"So when they say conventional food is cheaper, they are not telling you about these hidden costs," Biggins said. "Ultimately, sustainable organic food is cheaper, safer and an environmentally sound agricultural practice."
Andrea Townsley-Sapp described the study as "a very poor synopsis of a scientific article."
Townsley-Sapp is the membership and program coordinator of Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, a network of agriculture stakeholders, landowners and consumers that promote sustainable farming systems.
Numerous scientific articles show the value of organic farming through pest and weed control, soil and nutrient management, and habitat rehabilitation, Townsley-Sapp said, but these factors are not brought to public attention.
Also, science cannot prove something subjective, like taste, she said.
"I think those who have tasted organic products can verify the taste," she said, "but a sense is not something that can be proven -- as of now."