First, what is Local Food?
We hear the word “local” a lot. The term was first used to limit the geographical proximity between you, who eats the food, and where the food was grown, although there are differences in the mileage range in which you may still call your food local. The New Oxford American dictionary defines a locavore as someone who eats only food grown within 100 miles of the place of consumption; while other agencies and institutions have a larger radius.
Strictly speaking, geography is the only defining characteristic of ‘local food’, but we, along with many other consider local food to be associated with other major benefits and values:
- Local Economics: Why every dollar you spend shapes the local food system
30% of New England farmers will age out of farming in the next ten years, leaving 1.4 million acres of farmland in transition. Create more demand in the local food market by buying local:
Voting with your dollar is one way to keep farmers, both young and old engaged in growing good food.
You get a voice with your dollars; by buying from a local grower, that grower can keep doing what they are doing because they are getting financial support from you and their community. The more we support positive agricultural endeavors with our dollars, the less we support negative farming activities like foods being shipped hundreds of miles and being grown in monocultures or with non-organic principles.
So put your money where your mouth is! Give your local growers the financial incentive to keep up the good work, which may in turn give the nod to new growers who may seek to fulfill the growing need for well-grown food, for which you have just created higher demand.
2. Freshness: The closer you are to your farmers, the faster you get it post-harvest
Fruits and vegetables are filled with water-soluble vitamins and minerals that not only give them flavor, but that make them more nutritious to us- it’s what we define as freshness.
Let’s think a moment about conventional food. Bananas are picked green, loaded on a sea-faring vessel, and weeks later at their destination are ripened using a synthetic chemical in the shipping containers in which they arrive, just before they are distributed to the grocery store where you can pick up your maybe not-so-fresh fruit. Salad mixes are picked, washed, dried and packed in rigid plastic containers to make their way across the county from California in refrigerated trucks, unloaded, repacked, and eventually end up in the grocery store. But it’s organic! No matter, there are no stipulations in organic certification which describe the number of days between harvesting and availability to the consumer.
The faster you are able to consumer food post-harvest, the more nutrients there are available to you.
3. Taste: Get greater diversity of vegetables when farmers are growing for you, not the industrial food system
The fruits and vegetables we see in the grocery are bred to have the characteristics to travel across the county and the world; such traits do not necessarily coincide with good taste. There are plenty of delicious foods we just don’t see anymore because of the norm of year-round availability in total disregard of the seasons of your region. Take the Paw-Paw, for example: it is a fruit native to the Northeast U.S. and rarely seen anymore. It disappeared from the food scene upon the advent of refrigerated shipping- it was too delicate to last the journey, and was replaced with more physically resilient fruits such as apples and oranges.
What we see in the stores are fresh foods that can last weeks after harvesting and still look appealing to you once they reach the grocery store, not those that necessarily taste the best.
If you buy a carrot in the grocery store, or happen upon one in a can of soup, it is almost always going to be a Chantenay red- cored carrot- a carrot that has a 97% chance of being grown in one of seven states in the U.S. across vast monocultures.
It’s a carrot that has been bred for size, flavor, sturdiness in shipping and peal-ability. But think about what you’re missing out on in the carrot world if you limit yourself to only the Chantenay! There are Nelsons, Rainbows, Mokum, Yayas and Atlas, to name a few. Organic growers have the weather conditions, soil conditions and seasons in mind when choosing to plant these different varieties- wouldn’t you rather eat a carrot with the natural cycles in mind, and picked at peak-ripeness for taste, and with regard to crop diversity rather than the alternative?
With the rise of locally grown foods, and places to access such food, think of all the delicacies we can enjoy due simply to the fact that growers can get food to you with hours or days of harvesting their goods! It brings a whole lot more diversity, freshness, and flavors to your plate.