Farmer Wars — The Wal Mart Conundrum

Health, quality, ethics and affordability.

Yum!  Don't you just wanna eat 'em up?Lately we’ve been big on produce at the Daring household to the tune of about 8 lbs lost and increased regularity amongst the preschool faction.  We’re liking this change so well, that we’ve decided to branch out from our normal produce buying habits.

Enter the local farmers’ markets.  Several of the smaller towns around Seattle have weekly farmers’ markets where you can buy direct from local growers.  There’s a great community feel at the markets and I think it really makes a difference to support local business.

Sometimes you may have to buy the long orange sweet pepper, rather than the big red bell pepper you’d get at el-grocer, but sometimes you find a new vegetable you’ve never heard of and the proud booth owner is exceedingly happy to educate you on the merits of lemon-cucumbers.  And she’s right.  They are less bitter than regular cucumbers and extremely delicious.

Speaking of bitter, there seems to be some sort of silent feud going on at the market between the organic and non-organic growers, who seem to get much more business at their stands.  The non-organic growers have a much larger selection, and lower prices.  The organic growers have more passion, more unique specimens and sometimes dreadlocks.

Sometimes we buy organic.  Sometimes not.  It seems that the cool kids are all going organic.  You know?  The people who actually care about their families’ health.

I would love to go organic, free range, hormone and antibiotic-free, all-the-bad-things-that-are-probably-taking-months-off-our-lives-and-killing-our-dear-mother-earth-as-I-type-this-free.

But it all comes down to choices.  Do I eat a dead happy chicken’s breasts for $8.99/lb or do I snarf down the also deceased miserable little guy, whose hormone-injected flesh will likely cause Laylee to reach puberty around age 5 for $2.25/lb.

If I go for option A, we pretty much say goodbye to other luxuries such as window treatments, dental floss and most other food items we might enjoy for the purpose of sustaining life.

If I choose option B and I end up buying brassieres in 5T for a child who’s completely resistant to all forms of antibiotics and growing a third arm, I’m gonna feel exceedingly guilty.

Option B always carries a large amount of guilt.  I feel guilty that I cried when we got to Washington and realized there wasn’t a Super Wal Mart within driving distance.  I don’t want to feed the empire, offering up the carcasses of smaller businesses to its gaping monopolistic maw. 

I do however want to feed my family.  I want the food to be healthful but I also want it to be cheap.  Farmer’s market or Mega-grocer?  Happy happy free-range or Chicken coop hell?  Local or dun-dun-dun Western Washingtonian?  Organic or affordable?  Gala or Granny Smith? 

After I find a comfortable solution to these burning questions, maybe I can figure out how to get Laylee (3) to eat as much as Magoo (1).

Where do you stand in the farmer wars?  And, really, how do you live with yourself?

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48 Responses to Farmer Wars — The Wal Mart Conundrum

  1. Peter says:

    Gives me a head ache worrying about such things. Sometimes I long for the days when they thought it was cool to smoke.

  2. We just moved onto a farm this spring. We are raising our own free-range chickens. I think that one small fact alone gives me license to feed my family any topsoil-eroding, hormone-laden-ing, insect-murdering, child-laboring product out there. Right?

    Oh, and we are learning about the recycling programs in our area as we speak. We’re practically saints!

  3. Leslie says:

    We’ve decided, at the very least, to buy organic dairy products. If the market is giving a good deal on organic produce, then I’ll buy it, but I have not found organic meats that are affordable for us. Alas, we won’t be vegetarians…Hubby has this thing where if he does not have a dead animal on his plate, then he does not consider it a meal.
    I feel less guilty nowadays. I am hoping for an increase in demand to drive the prices down, but, where I live, most people don’t care where the food comes from as long as it is good.

  4. Mary says:

    My solution is to buy organic at Costco and Trader Joe’s. No chemicals, no budget busters, and, alas, still not the little guys. But I’ll take two out of three any day.

  5. Tess says:

    I’m just trying to branch out from Birds Eye frozen groceries to Green Giant, one step at a time.

  6. Mir says:

    There’s another debate, and that’s organic vs. local. Given that choice, I actually go local over organic for many things (speaking of monopolistic gaping maws…).

    I only buy hormone-free milk, now, to avoid the baby boobs at the very least. Many of my local dairies are certifying hormone- and antibiotic-free even if they aren’t certified organic. There are cheaper options for healthier meats, as well.

    Like you, I’d love to eat nothing but organic, in a perfect world. In a real world, I make sure that what my kids eat the most (milk!) is as safe as possible, and try to strike the middle ground everywhere else.

  7. Well I hate Wal-Mart, but I shop there. Yes I do because it’s one block from my house and it’s cheap and there are free cookies sometimes. Yeah, organic foods would be better but a meteorite could hit the earth tomorrow too. There’s only so much a person can worry about.

  8. I struggle with this, too. I am slowly switching over to buying more organic products, but I can’t afford to buy everything organic. We eat a lot of fresh fruits and veggies, which is very expensive, as you know. I do believe it is better to eat a large variety of conventionally grown produce than just one or two kinds of organic produce.

    We make just about everything from scratch, and I check labels religiously. I try to avoid high fructose corn syrup and other artifical additives like the plague (since, you know, they really are the plague). We end up buying a lot of name brands because a lot of them tend to have fewer artifical ingredients. We’ve eliminated cream of everything soups from our recipe repertoire. We make our own salad dressings and have just started making our own mayo (OK, so we’re geeks :). We don’t keep pop in the house and only drinking when eating out or on select special occasions.

    But does all this really help? I think it does, yes, or I wouldn’t do it. Other than the occasional cold, my family is very healthy. But I know people who eat fast food every day and never get sick, either. I may die from a heart attack at age thirty even if I eat a completely organic diet, or I may eat french fries every day and live to be a hundred. I think we should be dedicated to fixing our family food that promotes good health, but I also know that the effects of stressing out about it to the inth degree does a lot more harm than the occasional french fry.

  9. Jesse says:

    And then there’s the debate over local retail vs. community supported agriculture. Is the tomato a fruit, a vegetable, or a symbol of your commitment to “the viability of living systems”?

    That’s the question I’ve been pondering all summer long, since my wife and I dropped the cash to join our local CSA. There’s also the question of, “What am I going to do with all this purslane?”

  10. JustLinda says:

    How could that be serious and so funny at the same time? hahaha

    We’re on a healthy kick too but I have vegetable-resistant children so that parts been a challenge. We’ve gotten rid of sugared cereal and white bread and lots of bad stuff but I haven’t yet figured out how to get them to eat veggies.

  11. Well, honestly? I think there is SO much too worry about in the world of parenting, and I don’t have the mental energy to stew about it all. So I’ve picked my issues, and this isn’t one of them. I’m going to trust the good ol’ FDA and assume that Wal Mart chicken is safe, and I’ll have enough money left over for curtain rods. And lipstick. And loose-leaf paper. And light bulbs. And conditioner….

  12. Hello, I’m the girl who posted about grammatical errors earlier this week, and yes, my comment above uses “too” incorrectly. Just had to clarify that.

  13. Abbey says:

    I have a hard enough time finding meals that everyone will eat. I buy all local produce in the summer. I don’t shop at Wal-Mart. Ever. For many reasons. Right now organic doesn’t seem to matter much, as I struggle just to get them to taste any fruit or vegetable or meat. We do use wholegrain pasta, if I get any credit there. And I think about buying the organic hormone free milk. But it isn’t local and is expensive. Haven’t gone that far yet. I also wish I could get grass fed beef, rather than the corn fed variety. Also very expensive. It is hard to balance all this, isn’t it? Our great grandparents raised all thier own food. THey knew exactly what it was. Doesn’t sound so bad.

  14. abc momma says:

    It’s all about taste and price for me. I’m not into organic stuff. I haven’t educated myself about the benefits of organically-produced things though. All I know is that it costs too much and tastes awful (especially that organic Clifford cereal). If it tasted any better, I might dish out a little more money for it, but not four times more. If I happen upon a local fruit stand, I will stop and buy just because of the freshness of the produce–if it’s labeled organic, that’s a plus, not a requirement. Our local “farmer’s markets” have turned more into arts and crafts shows.

    Also, I won’t shop at Walmart. Luckily, we have another grocery chain here that has lower prices and better quality in produce. Some things are even local. I have to bag my own groceries, but that’s fine with me because I save so much money when I go there. I buy my meat in bulk at Costco.

  15. Ginger says:

    I feel caught up in the middle of this regarding my baby, and I am not even trying to worry about when he is eating a full diet yet. It seems as though all the other moms at my church or that I am around tend toward the organic way of life. I carry my baby in his Bjorn or his store-bought sling, while theirs are made at home. After giving up the fight to breastfeed, I found out that many of these moms make their own organic formula at home. I didn’t even know people did this. One women even gets organic milk that’s $8 a gallon from 2 hours away to make her formula. In the end, I have decided that I want to spend my time, energy, and money on other things for now, and I’ll continue to learn as I go. I have to do what I feel like is right for my family.

  16. Beanie says:

    Speaking of Farmers Markets, I found this link that helps you find farmers markets where you like (if they participate, not all are listed)

  17. Susan says:

    I bought organic milk for my sons for nearly a year; I paid a FORTUNE for it (over three times what I would pay for the hormone-laden stuff) and had to struggle with multiple half-gallon cartons (we don’t believe in gallon containers of organic milk in Oklahoma, apparently). And then I read about how the brand I was buying wasn’t really entirely organic and I stopped buying it.

    I still wonder if I should go back. And I wonder, often, how I can KNOW that what I’m paying so much for is REALLY organic.

  18. Krissy says:

    We do organic, farmers markets, the Fresh Market, and Wal mart veggies. I just try to mix some health in with the junk, lol.

  19. Heth says:

    Are Twinkies organic? I mean, they’re like 80% air or something, so that counts towards the good right?

  20. Tammy says:

    I am so there with the organic\ non-organic question. I’ve pretty well now gotten convinced that organic is healthier…duh! 😉 But the price is also a big issue for us right now. So…basically I buy it when it’s on sale. Or at Winco (kind of a Walmart-ish grocery chain). We’re going to working our way in the next few years to buying more and more organic…but until then, we still have pay the electric bill! 😉

  21. Pieces says:

    I have struggled with this before too. And then I get tired and I stop thinking because it makes my brain hurt. I pretty much do what Mir does. Non-hormonal milk, local produce if available, whatever is cheaper otherwise.

    And I never, ever shop at WalMart. I just always feel like I need some kind of deep cleansing after walking in there. I don’t know why.

  22. TftCarrie says:

    In NYC, where I didn’t own a car, my choices were very limited in this matter. I bought whatever my local market had that week and sometimes I made it to the Union Station farmers market for local produce. Sometimes, you just don’t have the resources.

    Now that I am in CA, I can’t speak highly enough of Trader Joes. That place is my glorious good food haven. I also love the love the local Farmer’s Market which is really close to where we live.

    The prices are not always the cheapest at either of these two places by far, but I have found by cutting out all “junk food” and decreasing our meat intake, it doesn’t hurt the food budget like it could. We still don’t eat 100% local or organic, but I really am happy with my efforts toward that direction.

    Lastly, I once went to a lecture by a woman who fed her family 100% healthy, organic, hormone free, etc. She was on the fanatic side but had some really great things to say. Her view on buying organic was to put your money into buying organic meat first, then dairy, then fruits and vegetables. I can’t remember her reasoning behind that, but I do remember that it made sense to me at the time. Something about the absorbtion factor?

  23. grammyelin says:

    It beats me all to shucks! I think I’m getting too old for all this nonsense. there were not nearly as many decisions to make when I was a young mother. There was not nearly as much information. I don’t know how you all manage it. Ignorance is indeed bliss!

  24. a. borealis says:

    I like the circus theme…it’s my first time here on the new site.

    This is an interesting topic, which, in a broader scheme, has been on my mind for quite some time. I’m getting really fed up with big-box stores, from grocery chains to the misc. stores like Target or Wal-Mart. We get what we pay for: if we want to buy cheapy-clothing, we’ve got to expect that the fit might be gawky, the colors fade quickly, or the garment could disintegrate after a few months of wear. If we buy yucky barely-orange carrots that barely taste like carrots for less, then that’s what we get.

    Price, cost-of-living, affordability, etc. These are very important things. But there is something to be said about quality. We’ve been raised in a society that wants MORE for LESS; but there is a breakdown in this equation. Fast food meals for half the price of a solid meal? Framed rinky-dink prints hot off of the factory press vs. wall hangings made by great-aunt Velma? Cheese that tastes like chalky plastic instead of a nice medium cheddar for 2 dollars less?

    I’m working my way back from Cheapville – I don’t know how I got there in the first place, but I don’t think it takes a fortune to leave. In fact: I wonder if it costs less. I’ve noticed that I am more aware of wastefulness and tend not to consume as much when I have a finer item.

    I think one of the above commenters has a good point too – it is all about cooking from scratch whether you have organic ingredients or not. Boxed and pre-prepared meals…oogieyuck.

  25. Caryn says:

    I have this same problem. There is some research out there showing which veggies, etc. it’s more important to buy organic than others, so I use that as a guide. It’s also sometimes dictated by selection at our grocery store. Although having both options is nice, it also leaves me open to lots of guilt, no matter which one I choose.

  26. Katherine says:

    I’m still living with the idealistic dream that if I keep buying organic stuff, and more of my friends start buying organic stuff, the wonder of economics will suddenly reveal itself with a drop in prices (ala supply and demand). Agribusiness isn’t exempt from the laws of economics is it? We can only hope. In the meantime, I take solice in the fact that most of what I’m buying at Trader Joe’s costs less than half of what it would cost at Whole Foods. (AND thank Heaven for Trader Joes!) 🙂

    If I acutally had a yard, I would grow a garden — there’s another (much more old fashioned way) of going organic. That’s what my Mom keeps saying (as she’s shaking her head . . . ) “just think . . . all those years ago we were eating organic food and didn’t even know it!” 🙂

  27. Alissa says:

    I’m with you. I’d do organic if A. my food budget was 3x as large as it currently is, B. I didn’t feel like it was a huge yuppie trend and C. It didn’t require so much energy…

    Because frankly, if you go all organic on food, you then have to start doing compost, and a garden and cloth diapering and extended breastfeeding and natural childbirth and good heavens… I just don’t have the time/energy for all that.

    Okay, just kidding. We drink Organic Soymilk from Costco. But I read a Consumer Reports article recently that said mostly buy “milk, eggs, produce and meat” organic… everything else (prepackaged stuff) doesn’t really matter.

  28. bon says:

    It’s a balancing act…
    we have weaned ourselves away from the Super Walmart over the past year… we spend more on food and sundries in general, but at least I don’t feel like i am feeding the machine so much anymore.

    Now I’m thinking about the milk that gets consumed around here… shoot. Lactose intolerant m’self… but the Chaos girls and Dadguy, they like the stuff. One more thing to stress about.

  29. meredith says:

    This topic is on my mind lately. I buy organic products about 25% of the time, the rest of the time, I read product labels carefully, trying to avoid certain additives. When I see so many eight year old girls with bigger boobs then me, I worry.

  30. Shalee says:

    We go to the farmer’s market on Saturday with $20 in our hand, and leave with nary a penny but lots of bags. Whatever else we need we get at the grocery story. Do I look for organic? No. Too expensive. I’m pretty sure that the farmer’s market stuff isn’t organic either. But I am sure that we’ll eat lots of veggies and wind up there again the following Saturday.

    I’m with Shannon. There are just too many other things to dwell upon. Food isn’t one of them (unless, of course, I don’t have any.)

    And (!) I used the correct “too” the first time.

  31. Mama T. says:

    My head hurts just thinking about all this stuff. I hardly have the time to get the grocery shopping done, let alone sit and contemplate organic vs. the stuff I’ve been buying for years and years. Nor does our budget allow for me to even consider paying 3x more for certain food.

    I the only “Good food buying Mom” star I’d get is that I go to Main Dish Kitchen once every 2 – 3 months and prepare meals ahead of time. So they are frozen, but not with a bunch of preservatives. (I think) Oh and my little one eats Yo Baby yogurt. And on occasion, if Kroger carries them, I buy organic bananas, because they last longer. So there, I get some points on the positive side.

  32. Mama T. says:

    P.S. I hate Walmart.

  33. Mama T. says:

    P.P.S. The second paragraph should have a “guess” as the second word. Darn brain getting ahead of my fingers…

  34. Trivial Mom says:

    Right now, we’re at a stage of life where I can’t really afford to worry about organic/not. We’re good if we get vegetables from a can on the table for dinner. I would like to eat healthy for my family. I love fresh fruits and vegetables, but we really just can’t afford it right now. I am so looking forward to moving in 2 months. We’ll be right down the street from the super walmart! If I can just get fresh produce that we can afford I’ll be happy.

  35. Traci says:

    8 pounds lost! Yay, you!!!

    I err on the side of economy most times. Mostly because I was raised on economy and me and my sibs are no worse for the consumption of unhappy poultry.

    But I do love and frequent farm markets and pick-your-own farms. (That’s a good way to get kids to eat vegetables by the way – they nibble the whole time you’re picking and then you just tell the casheir at the end to charge you for an extra 1/2 pound or so. :))

  36. Pops says:

    I’m going to be politically incorrect and say that there is nothing inherently better about eating organic produce instead of regular produce. Your body won’t know the difference, so don’t waste time or money on the issue. Some people can’t see the forest for the trees — eating “inorganic” produce (no, not rocks) is far, far better than eating no produce at all, or eating less produce than one would otherwise eat.

    I’m a believer in the notion that exposure to a small amount of bad things makes you healthier — this is called hormesis. The corollary is that raising kids in a completely aseptic environment will produce kids with severely degraded immune systems.

    There is no way the infinitesimally small amounts of pesticides found in produce is going to hurt anybody. And if you’re worried about the effect of chemicals on the environment, think about the effect of inefficient growing practices that require more land and more energy. Which is worse?

    Some day we may reach the point where organic farming is economically viable, and when that happens I’ll shout “Hurrah!” and eat organic produce. Until then, I’ll just eat…er, um, whatever my wife buys at the store?

  37. Last night I went organic. I procrastinated and did not dust the broccoli in our garden with pesticide. After washing the brocooli thoroughly and looking for caterpillars, I cooked it. I quite counting and threw the stuff out after four worms floated to the top. I’m definitely not organic. I like pesticide dust.

  38. First, your blog looks fab. Cute. Cute!! Do you know the photog on flickr who did your banner? (Or are you the photog?? hehe. )

    As for organic or not…well, I’m an organic gal myself. I do pay more but either you spend a little more for healthier foods or you will be making time to be sick. I’d love to make it to my 70th wedding anniversary. :o)

  39. It is sure tough I tell you! I am a SAHM and on a really tight budget. I try to do some organic when I can. Justice is still on mostly baby food right now and I don’t get the organic kinds, but I do buy organic whole milk, and it is expensive. I just cannot afford to get organic vegetables. It is either I go back to work and buy organic or stay home and scrimp. So, I find it more worth it to stay at home and buy some organic. It is definitely a hot button issue on the TV, forums, blogs, etc.

  40. yuka says:

    i hear organic is most important for thin fleshed fruits/veg. and really doesn’t matter for thicker skinned food like avocado and oranges.

  41. KYouell says:

    I have a note on my calendar that reminds me every Saturday to go to the local Farmer’s Market (we actually have one about every other day in my area). I haven’t been yet. Sigh. I shop at TJ’s too because if they have what I want there, it’s cheaper. Why should I pay at least $1 more per half-gallon of milk and pound of butter? Especially when their milk lasts longer. What is up with that? It’s hormone free, etc., just like at the grocery store. All I can think is that they have faster turn over.

    I also try to stay away from the demon that is Wal-Mart. My family has a small sewing machine/vacuum sales & repair business that could easily be eaten up by them. It’s easy to stay away when we are home (no Super Wal-Mart around here), but when we are on the road it seems there is always a reason to go to a Wal-Mart. The last 5 or so trips to & from Montana have included stops to the W-M in Winnemucca, Pocatello, Billings and Logan. When you ask a local, “Where can I get X?” they always give you directions to the W-M. We just don’t fight it while on vacation anymore and it ticks off my mom & uncle something fierce.

    Wait, we were talking about food! Shoot.

    I try very hard to buy organic on produce where we eat the skin, but on the meat issue I’m facing an uphill battle on the homefront. Hubby thinks that grass-fed beef tastes like fish, and hates the taste of the free-range vegetarian-fed chicken I love (unlike other brands it actually tastes like something). I won’t eat farmed fish unless it’s from Norway (they have *really* low disease rates without chemicals, supposedly because of the almost-freezing cold water). I wish we could do better with the whole meat issue because, it being higher up in the food chain, I think the bad stuff can be more concentrated.

    As to why I think that any of this is important to worry about:

    I didn’t really start worrying about all this until I became pregnant. Once our son was born I thought I’d be able to lighten up, but when the doctor says “open heart surgery around 3-6 months old” you make darn sure you aren’t putting ANYTHING in your body that could go through the breastmilk. Now that surgery is over he’s clamoring for bites of everything I put in my mouth, so the pressure is still on. His poor little immune system may be impaired for life and I cannot risk putting crap in that will make him sick. I already have to deal with the fact his life expectancy (because of Down syndrome) is short enough that I’m probably going to out-live him. I will not see him in the ground any sooner if I can help it. And if that means that we can’t afford to go out to movies and I can’t buy new clothes because I’m making sure he has the cleanest food possible, so be it.

    I just think that the whole impaired immune system thing should be brought into the dialogue. Maybe it’s like flu vaccines and the young and elderly who are most at risk should get the organic stuff first?

    Should I just move to Canada? Do they have a universal organic food program to go with the health care? 🙂

  42. Beth says:

    Well, I just don’t know how to live with myself, because I am a very infrequent organic buyer as we are BROKE. However, I do often try buy organic for the fruits and veggies that experts say are really the worst when non-organic, like apples and lettuce as opposed to those that apparently are not that different, like bananas and avocados. I saw a list in an article once, cut it out and carry it in my wallet.

  43. Heather O says:

    We frequent the farmer’s markets and often go to pick your own farms. I’m not so riled up about organic stuff, mostly because just because it’s organic still does not mean it’s good for you. I saw organic “soft sour candy” at the store the other day–give me a break! Those suckers will still rot your kid’s teeth, no matter how the sugar was milled. But the farmer’s markets support local growers, which I like. Plus, it’s a fun activity on Saturday mornings.

    We also, of course, have our own garden, and throughout the summer we basically only eat the vegetables from our garden. And every time I think I am tomatoed out, and this tomato sandwich will be my last, it happens to be a perfect tomato and I get a sloppy grin all over my face at how delicious it is. Seriously, grow a garden, compost your perishable leftovers, and your environmental guilt will rapidly decrease.

    On the milk thing–I love to buy hormone free, organic milk, but the price tag seriously busts our budget. I compromise and buy the good stuff every three grocery trips. It won’t bust you if you alternate it with the cheap, hormone ridden, will cause your baby to give birth to caterpillar larvae with boobs milk (which I really like the taste of, by the way. The milk I mean, not the caterpillar larvae.) We also drink a lot of soymilk, which cuts down on the amount of cow’s milk we have to buy. I swear the food of the Gods is a ripe peach sliced up, drenched in brown sugar and vanilla soy milk, eaten on a warm summer morning.

    I gotta go pick some peaches.

  44. Bobita says:

    I struggle with this every day.

    A Nutritionist friend of mine recently sent me an article about aspartame and the “evil” FDA…in response to which my choice of food is changing…DRASTICALLY! I can only hope that there will come a day when we won’t have to choose between organic or non-organic…it seems pretty awful that we have to make that choice now. It makes me incomprehensibly sad that our health and well-being are not being better protected by the powers that be.

  45. EmLouisa says:

    I have no opinion. I am choosing to ignore the whole thing and hope it goes away. I don’t want to think about what I am or not doing to my kids. lalalallala. Make it go away.

  46. Nettie says:

    Wow! Lots of comments on this one. Everybody back from vacation? I have to say I follow the granola nutrition stuff poorly. I grow a garden, organically because I’m lazy. That’s as far as I get. I don’t know what to trust usually. They change their minds it seems. Like nitrates are now supposed to be good for you? And have you heard about the evils of corn syrup? I keep meaning to google why.

  47. Lei says:

    Lurve your new pad. 🙂

    And I am laughing so hard right now. A bra in 5T? You’re a riot.

    I am only snobby about one thing, and that is eggs.

  48. Dang. If I’d known that inorganic milk would give me boobs, I would have doubled up on the dairy years ago. I guess at 42, it’s too late. My only hope now is surgery.

    BTW, you can thank the “evil” FDA that your children don’t have flippers. (Google “thalidomide” for more details.)

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