Produce from your local grocery store chain (whether it is organic or conventional) travels on average 1500 miles from the farm to your plate. There are several reasons this is a cause for concern:
- In most cases, the farther your produce travels the less nutritious (and tasty) it is by the time you eat it.
- Even though the grocery store appears to have a wide selection of produce, their focus is truly on varieties that will travel well and have a longer shelf life.
- Needlessly transporting produce all around the globe wastes natural resources and harms the environment.
As far as your personal health is concerned, eating organic blueberries from Chile is certainly better than consuming a box of something that is highly processed. However, buying local produce (whenever possible) will result in “fresh whole foods picked at the peak of their taste and nutritional quality” according to Michael Pollan. If you shop at your local farmers’ market you will automatically “eat food that is in season, which is usually when it is most nutritious [and it] also tends to diversify your diet.”
So after learning that organic carrots from a local farm (that were pulled out of the ground yesterday) might be more nutritious for my family than carrots from the grocery store I decided to start visiting our local farmers’ market. I want to share a thing or two that I learned about buying food locally, but before I do I encourage you to find a farmers’ market in your area through the Local Harvest website. This website can also help you find a local farm that offers a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box which allows you to become a member of that farm and receive a weekly box containing produce that they have selected for you.
In regards to farmer’s markets, I first learned that there are different types. The type that I have become fond of is a “growers-only” market, and luckily the largest and most diverse growers-only farmers’ market in the Charlotte area is fairly close to us – the Matthews Community Farmers Market. I also visited the much larger Charlotte Farmers Market and quickly got the impression that the people selling the food there weren’t the ones that actually grew it, and a lot of what was offered was not organic or grown locally (including some berries I saw from South America). There were a few local items mixed in, but other than that I felt like I might as well have gone shopping at the grocery store. The Charlotte Market may have a higher quantity of local items once summer nears, but during the time I visited it was definitely a different feeling from the Matthews Farmers Market.
I also learned that if you are planning to hit a local growers-only farmers market like the one in Matthews (especially in the winter) you really need to get there right when it opens – hello 7 A.M.! I learned this the hard way and showed up towards the end the first couple of times only to find that the farmers hardly had any produce left! This was also during their “winter market” when high quantities of local produce are a little harder to come by. So I finally figured out that I must set my alarm on a Saturday morning to try to get there at least close to when the bell rings – yes they actually have a bell to signal the start of selling time! And before the bell even rings there are already lines of people waiting at their favorite booths. Here is a picture of some of the things I was able to get this past weekend.
Which leads me to my next point…you must be a little adventurous and willing to try new things because the farmers are basically only selling what’s in season in your area. Trying new recipes with your newly discovered produce can be fun and keep things interesting. Over the last month or two I have tried both rutabagas and collard greens – both items I don’t ever recall eating before, but that is what is fresh and in season here right now. I still can’t live without my organic berries in my granola cereal every morning, but the best thing we can do for ourselves, for our environment, and also for our local agriculture is to try to add as much locally grown produce to our diet as possible. As you can see in my picture, in addition to produce some of the farmers also sell eggs, cheese, grass-fed beef and other locally & humanely raised meats. We have really enjoyed this new food shopping experience and since we aren’t really morning people we decided to sign up for an every other week CSA (from Poplar Ridge Farm), starting in May. I love the idea of a big box of fresh, healthy, local and organic produce that has been reserved just for us!