Why You Should Eat Local
You sit down to eat dinner, but take a pause before digging in. What’s on the menu? Local grass-finished beef T-bone steaks, buttery fingerling potatoes grown in the Columbia Basin, and roasted brussle sprouts and carrots seasoned with herbs from the farmer’s market. And for dessert? A perfectly flakey apple pie with bubbling granny smith apples, grown in Washington State, nestled under the made-from-scratch pie crust. A traditional, simple meal comprised of many ingredients that were produced not far too from your dinner table.
When planning that meal did you even consider where those foods were coming from? Did you think about the farmers that grew it? What about the journey the meat and produce you purchased took to get from the field to your table? These are questions that the everyday consumer often overlooks. However, as a consumer, you have the purchasing power to make informed decisions on which foods you buy based on factors such as affordability, nutritional value, and brand preference.
While it must be noted that having safe and secure access to nutritious food is a privilege, this article will describe why you should consider adding one more factor to your purchasing decisions. Considering where food is grown and how far it has been transported to get to you is a key component to supporting your local agricultural economy, protecting the environment, nurturing your family, and building connections with the community around you.
Community gardens, farmer’s markets, and CSA (community supported agriculture) programs are all excellent sources of locally grown foods. Larger grocery store chains are also moving towards sourcing their produce and meat products from smaller, local producers as well. Small, locally owned restaurants are also more likely to use products that are grown within their community. Finding local foods may take a little more effort, but the benefits far outweigh the time it takes to look for them.
Eating Local Supports Local Businesses
Local foods are brought to you by small businesses in your area. These businesses are dependent upon local support to sustain their operations. Your hard-earned money is valuable to any business, but especially to those who own and operate small local farms and restaurants. Farming, ranching and owning a restaurant are risky businesses because they have no control over fluctuating prices. Committing to eating local ensures that those businesses have a steady flow of income to continue operating.
Local businesses employ local people. Those people in turn invest in other local businesses, further supporting the local economy. In a time when things feel very uncertain, one of the best decisions you can make is to keep your money within your local economy so that it directly benefits the community around you.
Eating Local Benefits the Environment
Local foods take less time to get to the consumer. A fruit grown at a local farm and sold at a farmer’s market will have fewer food miles than a fruit grown in California or Florida. Food miles are the distance a product travels from the field to where it is sold. Purchasing locally grown foods limits the volume of fossil fuels burned during the transportation process. Our food systems rely heavily on the use of trucks carrying products across the country, using costly fuel and contributing to CO2 emissions.
Local foods also tend to be produced on smaller farming operations. Smaller farms allow for farmers to implement restorative agricultural practices. Limiting the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and introducing cover crops, minimizing tillage, and maximizing crop diversity are all ways to positively impact local environments. Farmers and ranchers are stewards of the land. It’s in their best interest to make sure the land is healthy and productive for generations to come. Purchasing local foods can support farmers in your area in their mission to protect the environment for all of us.
Eating Local Provides Essential Nutrition
Local foods are harvested at peak ripeness, ensuring the optimum nutritional value and flavor. Foods that are consumed locally and in season will taste better and pack a dense nutritional punch. Produce that is grown far from where it is consumed is often harvested before they are ripe to lengthen its shelf life during transport. In some cases, waxes or other preservatives are used to maintain freshness and limit spoilage. While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the use of these preservatives, local food producers don’t have to employ these tactics.
Foods tend to lose some of their nutritional value as they sit on the shelf. Antioxidants, such as Vitamin C and carotenes, can decrease slightly over time. When consuming local foods, not only are you getting the freshest, ripest foods but you are also eating them when they are the most nutritious. On top of this, fresh, in-season foods taste better than foods that have traveled hundreds of miles over long periods of time. When foods taste good, you want to eat more. Feeding your family whole, nutritious meals has never been easier than when you purchase locally grown foods! Incorporating more healthy fats, vegetables, and whole grains can not only benefit your health but it can also support your local agricultural industry.
Eating Local Builds Connection Within Your Community
Local foods are grown by someone in your own community. Supporting local farmer’s markets and CSAs bring you closer to individuals that grown your food. Few people have the privilege of meeting the people who grow their food, but when you make the choice to start eating locally, you build a deeper connection with your food and the people who grow it. Community gardens take this a step further and invite you to become a part of the cultivation and harvesting of your food. You gain an appreciation for the process and understand the importance of agricultural systems in your area.
Beyond connecting to your food, you also connect with people. Not just the producers who grow it, but the people who prepare your food as well. When you actively search for restaurants that source their ingredients locally and compliment the chef on the delicious meal they created, you get that much closer to the food you are consuming. Food and community are deeply connected in cultures across the globe, so it’s no surprise that taking steps towards eating local can bring people together.
In this season of harvest and abundance, consider finding ways to eat local. Research your local farmer’s market or CSA program. Volunteer at your local community garden. Visit a restaurant that uses locally sources ingredients. Enjoy fresh, in season foods with your family, friends and neighbors knowing you are making a contribution to local agriculture.