As farmer, I’m constantly talking with my customers about the importance of eating locally. It’s a conversation I love to have and I get so excited to educate my customers. Your curious mind may want to know, “why is eating local so important?”
There are many reasons why it is important to eat food grown/raised locally, and here are my top 5 reasons:
1.) Locally grown food tastes better!
As a produce grower I’ll stick to examples of things I grow...
There is nothing better than a vine ripened tomato grown close to you. Have you ever stopped to wonder why they taste better than a store bought tomato? The leading states for tomato production (in the US) are California & Florida. This makes sense since their climate is better suited for tomatoes and they can grow them for longer seasons than we can here in Iowa. Grocery stores stock tomatoes year round, so the majority of tomatoes they sell are not grown locally. Most tomatoes sold at grocery stores are harvested as green tomatoes and ripen in transport, and can even be exposed to gases that speed up the ripening process. They can’t be picked vine ripe, because the time in transport is too long and they would be bad before they make it to our stores. Another thing to consider is many large tomato operations are growing plants hydroponically (not in soil) so their flavor profile is not as strong.
2. Local food supports the local economy.
Let’s use garlic as an example: The majority of the garlic sold in our grocery stores come from China. Would you rather use your money to promote a large scale farming operation thousands of miles away, or see it go to the hands of a local farmer? If you buy from local farmers it allows them to be more successful but it also has a snowball effect for the local economy. The more successful the local farmer is, the more money they will have spend their in their local economy thus strengthening it.
3. Local food can have strong environmental impacts.
Food transport can place a toll on the environment. Large (refrigerated) trucks transporting food across the US demand quite a bit of fossil fuels. The trucks depend on gas (or diesel) which emit exhaust that can increase air pollution.
Rather than purchasing packaged baby carrots, consider purchasing carrots from a farmer at a farmstand. Using my farm for example, our carrots are harvested by hand (using a digging fork), they are bunched, washed, and then stored in a 10x10 walk in cooler. Those carrots move 30 feet from my walk in cooler to the shelf for sale at the farmstand. The environmental impact of those carrots is much less than mega-farms who use large tractors machinery to harvest, wash, store, and transport.
On a different note, buying local allows farmers to maintain their farm businesses and keep their land in production which can prevent urban sprawl.
4. Buying local allows you to connect with your farmer and know more about your food.
Think of a farmers market, most stands are being run by the farmer, or someone closely associated with the farm. More often than not you are directly buying from the hands that planted the seeds! This gives you an opportunity to talk directly with your grower and ask questions about how to prepare the food, what methods were used to grow the food, and so much more! It allows you to make informed and educated purchasing decisions.
5. Buying local can increase your health
There is still scientific research being done to find out if locally grown food is better for your health, but here is my take on it:
When you focus on buying locally that also means you will eat seasonally which is connected to improved health. For example, in the winter time you are probably enjoying winter squash, onions, and potatoes while in the summer you probably eat quite a bit of sweet corn, watermelons, tomatoes, and strawberries.
Locally grown food tends to be more fresh. Many farmers harvest items less than 2 days before they sell them. That is not commonly the case when buying from grocers because the food has traveled many miles to get to the store and may have been sitting on the shelves for long periods of time. Fresher food is known to have higher nutrient values.
Finally, I find that people who eat locally tend to be more food conscious and food aware. They tend to place more value and have diets higher in fruits, vegetables, meats, grain and eat less processed foods. There is a correlation between our nation's obesity rates and the consumption of processed foods.
I realize it can be hard to fully eat seasonal in Iowa, but I hope these ideas inspire/motivate you when it comes to your food purchases.
Your Urban FarmHer,