Recent news that First Lady Michelle Obama and her family intend to grow an organic vegetable garden on the South Lawn of the White House means that the entire First Family will be enjoying organic salads.
Hopefully the news will prompt increased popularity for organic salads everywhere.
Recent statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture show that the percentage of total acres devoted to organic vegetable production for three common salad vegetables, lettuce, tomatoes and carrots, ranks higher than other organic food production categories such as fruit and grains. Still, organic vegetable production remains a very small part of the total vegetable market.
In 2005, 98,870 acres of land were devoted to carrot production and 5.80% or 5,737 acres, were organic carrot production. The percentage of the organic lettuce crop came in at 3.69%, or 11,986 out of 324,500 acres planted. Organic tomatoes rounded out the list with 1.62% or 6,655 out of a total 411,840 acres planted. Figure 1 shows a similar six year trend in organic salad production statistics.
Except for a sudden surge and drop in organic lettuce production in 2001-2002, production of the three common salad items held steady over the first half of the decade. In sum, the numbers suggest that less than four percent of all the lunch and dinner salads consumed over this time could possibly be labeled organic.
The strengths and weaknesses of the organic salad market have straight forward supply and demand explanations. The supply side deals with growing issues. Leaf lettuce and carrots, for example, often place high on most gardeners, easiest to grow vegetables list. Large scale production does little to hurt their ease of growing. Growing most of the popular tomato varieties requires more maintenance, and large scale organic tomato production is no different (see Organic Tomato Production).
Demand for organic salad produce, as with other organic products, supports the current market. Price is one factor commonly cited as keeping a lid on demand. For example, according to the Department of Agriculture, in June 2006, a 48 pound sack of carrots conventionally grown cost $10.27. A similar 48 pound sack of organic carrots cost $18. A walk through the produce section of any grocery story backs up those statistics. Organic vegetables are double or triple the price of their non-organic counterparts.
Taking the supply and demand factors into account suggests that organic salads are not a staple of the average American diet. If they are a part of your diet, chances are you’ve grown most of the vegetables in your own garden.