Mouth-watering vegetables present a striking contrast to the dull brick of Tate Plaza each Wednesday as Students of Organic Agriculture sells organic produce to hungry passerby.
Students of Organic Agriculture (SOA), a University student organization, sells freshly grown organic produce in Tate Plaza almost every Wednesday in an effort to be a source of nutrition for the University. According to SOA founder Timothy Hutton, a food promotion major, SOA aims to “be a facet on campus, a place where people can reliably get fresh produce.”
Working in tandem with the University certificate program in organic agriculture, SOA harvests produce grown at the University’s organic agriculture farm in Watkinsville, Ga. The certificate program, which includes a hands-on internship at the agriculture farm, is a way to “learn about local foods, organic agriculture and sustainability,” said University student Jordan Sanchez-Vesga, a forestry major.
Since every effort has been made to minimize chemical usage, the United States Department of Agriculture certifies all of the farm’s produce as certified organic In other words, the produce uses no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, and is grown using biologically based farming methods.
SOA’s efforts reflect a larger national trend in favor of organic produce. Many stores have organic produce sections, and many sell that produce for a higher price. However the overall benefits of organic produce are still contested.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, organic agriculture has a number of environmental benefits. It increases long-term sustainability and water quality, prevents climate change and promotes biodiversity. However, the health benefits of organic produce are more dubious.
When compared to the health benefits of conventionally grown foods, the benefits of eating organic produce are minimal. A 2012 study conducted by researchers at Stanford University found that, although organic foods are less likely to contain pesticides, the level of pesticides found in conventional produce is not large enough to significantly impact consumers.
Although it is possible for different vegetables to have different nutrient levels, organic and conventional agriculture methods are not the determining factors behind these levels, the study goes on to say. Rather, nutrient levels are primarily based on genetic makeup, the weather, and how ripe the produce was at the time of harvest.
For now, the University community can rely on SOA and the organic agriculture farm for fresh, environmentally friendly produce. Organic produce may not present many health benefits when compared to conventional produce, but compared to the fast food diets of many students, SOA’s produce may still be a better option. As Sanchez-Vesga says, it is accessible, and a “fresh, tasty and local way to keep yourself healthy.”