By Daniela Baker
Locally grown food is all the rage these days, with CSA’s – Community Supported Agriculture Co-ops – popping up across the nation. Whether you get your produce from a CSA that you subscribe to each growing season, from a farmer’s market, or even from a local supermarket that stocks its shelves with locally grown food, there are lots of reasons to go local when it comes to your food. Here are the most compelling:
1. You get fresher, tastier food.
You already know that produce that has been sitting in your fridge for a few days after you buy it is likely to get moldy, and at the very least, it won’t taste as fresh or vibrant as it would have the day you brought it home. The truth is that produce starts to break down and lose its flavor as soon as it’s picked, which is why there’s truly nothing like an apple right off the tree or a cherry tomato right off the vine.
With locally grown food, you’ll usually receive your produce within a day of its being picked, which is much less time between picking and table than you’ll get with conventional produce shipped from halfway around the world. Plus, locally grown food is in season, rather than forced to grow in an unnatural hothouse environment. Again, you’ve probably already experienced this difference if you’ve had hothouse tomatoes in the dead of winter and then compared them to seasonal tomatoes picked in July. With locally grown food, these differences are obvious in taste, freshness, and texture, and most locally grown produce will even last longer on the shelf or in your fridge.
2. Your produce is more nutritious.
Locally grown food is more nutrient dense for two reasons. For one, even farms that aren’t certified organic often use organic practices when growing their produce, as they have a vested interest in preserving the land and soil on and around their farms. Organic produce, according to some studies cited in Eating Well magazine, can have 40-50% more of certain valuable nutrients, including cancer-fighting polyphenols and cold-fighting Vitamin C.
Of course, the freshness of your produce factors in here, too. Produce begins to break down as soon as it’s off the vine, and this involves some breakdown of the essential nutrients in produce, as well. Fresher fruits and vegetables are naturally more nutritious.
3. You’ll find better variety of fruits and vegetables.
Conventional grocery store produce is usually homogenized so that everything is a certain shape, size, and color. Instead of being bred for taste and variety, grocery store vegetables and fruits are usually bred to have a longer shelf life and to be easier to pack, ship, and stock in a grocery store. (Money-Saving Tip: Use a grocery credit card that offers a higher cash back rate for purchases at supermarkets).
Local farmers, on the other hand, tend to use heirloom varieties that have been hand selected for their vibrant colors, unique flavors, and suitability to the local environment. While gourmet cooks and everyday foodies, in particular, love the variety you can find at a local farmer’s market, most people who shop locally come to appreciate the different flavors and textures offered by heirloom variety produce.
4. You’ll help protect the local wildlife, soil, and water.
Because farmers who sell at local markets, rather than to national or international conglomerates, farm in smaller fields and take care of the soil and water supply by rotating crops and avoiding pesticides and herbicides (even if they aren’t certified organic.), local farms are better for wildlife, the soil, and the water. Smaller patches of farms allow for meadows and woods between, which help maintain the local habitat for wildlife. Avoiding the use of pesticides and herbicides is also great for the wildlife, as well as for the local water supply.
Besides this, local farmers tend to think about preserving the integrity of their soil for generations to come. In order to do this, they’ll rotate crops, co-plant, and use other farming practices that keep the soil from being depleted of nutrients.
5. You’ll help conserve energy.
Eating locally obviously conserves much of the energy that is expended in shipping produce from one side of the country to the other – or even halfway around the world. According to locavores.com, about 1/5 of all petroleum in the United States is used in the field of agriculture. Traditional farms even use petroleum based fertilizers and pesticides, not to mention all the gas that is expended in shipping the food around the country. By eating locally, you can help limit as much of this petroleum usage as possible.
6. You’ll support your local economy.
Eatlocalnow.org states that when you spend a dollar on produce from a large corporation, about fifteen cents remains in your local community. When you spend a dollar at a local business, on the other hand, almost half of it is reinvested in the local economy. Obviously spending your dollars for local food rather than food produced by a national or international conglomerate will have far-reaching, good consequences for your community’s economy. Despite appearances to the opposite with big box stores on every corner in most communities, small businesses are still the backbone of the American economy, so supporting local businesses in whatever way you can ultimately supports the economy of your own city or region.
7. You can feel good about your food choices.
For all the above listed reasons, when you shop locally for your food, you can feel good about the choices you’re making. Your family can learn to enjoy locally grown foods, and maybe your excellent food choices will rub off on friends, neighbors, and other family members around you. Whether you shop each summer weekend at a farmer’s market, buy certain produce from a local farmer just outside your city, or subscribe to a CSA each year, by shopping for your food locally, you can make a difference in your own life, the environment, and your local economy.
How to Shop for Food Locally
One of the best ways to simplify your shopping for locally grown food is to sign up for a CSA. With a CSA, a local farm will sell a certain number of shares for the season, which can range from a few months to the entire year, depending on the local growing season. Investors will buy shares at the beginning of the season and will pick up or have boxes of fresh vegetables and sometimes fruits delivered at a certain time each week. With a CSA, you can support a local farm directly, get locally grown foods handpicked for you, and try tons of varieties you may not have thought to try before.
A CSA can be a great investment in your health, even if you’re on a tight budget at the moment. Costs range from $300-$800 per season, depending on the length of the season and the size of the share. Some farms offer full-shares and half-shares, though it’s usually cheapest to get a full share, even if you need to split it with someone else.
Daniela Baker is a personal finance blogger at http://www.creditdonkey.com/, where she helps families compare grocery credit cards. She is a health- and fitness-conscious mother of two who is passionate about making healthy lifestyle choices. Shopping for local food is getting simpler and simpler these days.