Growing Local Roots

Organic Foods in Kalamazoo: Worth the Cost

Where can Kalamazoo residents find organic foods and the best deals? What are the health benefits of eating organic foods for local residents and their families?

By Katey Stapleton

A cashier’s hand effortlessly types in each price as the electronic screen lists the organic produce and canned goods being purchased. The total for one meal that fills up a paper bag has reached $26.41.  

While shopping for organic foods at a health food store or market may appear expensive to those who have shopped at chain grocery stores for most of their lives, it is possible to find the organic products they’re looking for on a budget.

“Organic food means it has been approved by the FDA, that it has natural ingredients, [and] it doesn’t use pesticides. With meat, there is no antibiotics, no hormones [and it is] coming from a place that doesn’t use animal cruelty,” said Callie Symons, 22, an employee at Sawall’s Health Foods on Oakland Drive. “With meat, they’re not trying to get more for less. They’re not pumping products into [animals] to make them bigger and produce more,”

 Local residents have developed strategies for finding quality organic food products at good prices.

“If you go to a local farmers market, you can buy in bulk and freeze certain foods,” said Kelsey McCormick, a vegan and former Kalamazoo resident. “After I go grocery shopping, I clean, cut up and bag everything immediately. I think this eliminates the amount of waste from foods going bad if you are too lazy to prepare them.”

Local stores also offer special deals to make organic food affordable.

“[Sawall’s] has a lot of sales every month. Produce is a top quality product that you want to have organic,” Symons said.

 Searching for deals and inexpensive health foods has become easier over time with the Internet. Consumers can visit websites that offer assistance in the hunt, such as, said Grace Derocha, 34, a health and wellness social media analyst and dietician.

 While non-organic foods on standard grocery store shelves will be marked with a lower price than that of organic foods, consumers of organic foods say the extra cost is worth it.

“Food should be expensive,” said Rebecca Palombit, 24, a Kalamazoo resident who eats a partial organic diet. “You are what you eat. You should spend the most money on your food.”

Derocha said Palombit is spot on.

“For those people that care about nutrition, health, safety, taste and environmental sustainability, there is no question that the value of organic produce far outstrips that of conventional produce,” Derocha said.

 Derocha not only pointed out the internal benefits for those individuals who eat organic diets, but also weighed in on the economic advantages.

“It also greatly benefits the farmers that cultivate organic fruits and vegetables. Organic farmers are environmental stewards of the land. They use natural and sustainable methods to bring you the best tasting, safest and most nutrient-rich foods available,” she said.

 Farmers who produce FDA-certified organic foods endure hurdles that farmers who produce non-organic products may not.

According to Bonnie Farmer, a family and consumer sciences professor at Western Michigan University, being organic is expensive because of extra costs to produce the food.

“Higher production costs. Organic farming is sometimes more labor intensive. In addition to production costs, there are costs associated with the certification process if they want to state that their products are certified organic,” she said.

 Reaping the benefits of food grown by farmers who do not use fertilizers has one stipulation:   these foods have a shorter shelf-life than non-organic foods.

 “Organics don’t last that long because they are natural. Other fruits and vegetables are genetically modified. They appear to be riper and sweeter, but it’s almost like they are injected with things and are grown with radiation,” Palombit said.  “Organic food doesn’t last as long, but that’s only because that is the real-time of when something should go bad.”

The shorter shelf-life of organic foods does not necessarily deter consumers who depend on the nutritional benefits to lessen health risks and potentially increase their own lifespan.   However, the effect of organic foods on health is still up for debate.

“There is no current evidence that organic affects lifespan or health risk. This type of evidence would require long-term, population-based studies,” Farmer said.

Having seen results after dealing with health issues herself, McCormick said that making an organic lifestyle change has improved her own health immensely.

“I became vegan after visiting a cardiologist. I was getting screened for some health problems I was having. I made the switch little by little and have been 110 percent healthier ever since. I no longer need to see the cardiologist, as this lifestyle change corrected many of the problems I was having,” she said. “I feel so much better about what I am putting into my body. A majority of my health problems have been eliminated or gone away. Organic foods give you natural energy that not even caffeine can.”

Palombit mentioned a similar experience she noticed after altering her diet.

“I am a lot healthier. I don’t crave bad food anymore. Once you’re on an organic diet, things that you used to eat kind of gross you out. I feel really clean,” she said. “I’m not a doctor, but I would almost bet my life on it that organic food increases your lifespan and health tremendously.”

Whether the long-term effects of eating organic foods exist or not, the everyday benefits do outweigh the higher prices for some.

“You feel better as a whole - mind [and] body. Especially people with allergies that eat the better food don’t get sick as much,” Symons said.

 For Derocha, it is the sheer amount of chemicals polluting non-organic food that keeps her on an organic diet.

“Truth be told, it is healthier and safer for you and your families to eat organic,” Derocha said. “I encourage everyone to research the benefits of organic produce versus conventional produce that is farmed using poisonous pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, nitrogen-based fertilizers, GMO’s [genetically modified organisms] and other potentially hazardous chemicals and unproven science. The litany of chemicals used in conventional farming reads like the inventory of an exterminator -- not the kinds of things I want around my food, to say the least.”