Why Eat Local Foods?

I confess that just a little over a year ago I had never even stepped foot in a farmers’ market, and now here I am looking forward to it every Saturday morning and even setting my alarm for it.

Community Dinner at the Matthews Farmers’ Market

I don’t think it is realistic for anyone to eat locally 100% of the time, but it is certainly possible to incorporate some local foods into our diets every week. And who wouldn’t be on board with such a proposition that happens to make a great deal of sense? Did you know that the produce in the supermarket (whether it is organic or conventional) travels, on average, 1,500 miles from the farm to your plate? Not only is all that travel taxing on the environment, but it also gives the produce a chance to lose some of its nutritional value along the way. And the varieties of produce chosen to go on such an adventure are limited because factory farms are only interested in fruits and vegetables that travel well and can survive a long shelf life.

To give you a better idea of how many varieties of produce we are really missing out on when we shop at the grocery store I want to share an interesting fact from the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which is about a family who ate almost 100% local (off their own farm and from other surrounding farms) for an entire year:

“According to Indian crop ecologist Vandana Shiva, humans have eaten some 80,000 plant species in our history. After recent precipitous changes, three-quarters of all human food now comes from just eight species, with the field quickly narrowing down to genetically modified corn, soy, and canola.”

Just check out the pictured vegetable that I got from our Poplar Ridge Farm C.S.A. (Community Supported Agriculture) box last year. I didn’t even know what it was at first, and I’ve most certainly never seen anything that looked so cool at the grocery store! It turned out to be an unusual variety of eggplant, and I honestly just had fun keeping that funky thing as a centerpiece on my counter for a few days. Some other unusual varieties we’ve gotten from our C.S.A. box and the farmers’ market include purple broccoli raab, bright lights swiss chard, Easter egg radishes, red pak choy, golden beets, and dinosaur kale. All these unusual varieties remind me how food is supposed to be fun and enjoyable and not just for sustenance as we shovel fast food burgers into our mouths in the car!

Another intriguing tidbit from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is about the reaction of some kids when they learned that their food is grown in dirt:

“Malcolm liked hanging around when Steven was working in the garden, but predictably enough, had a love-hate thing with the idea of the vegetables touching the dirt. The first time he watched Steven pull long, orange carrots out of the ground, he demanded: ‘How’d you get them in there?”

“Absence of [knowing how foods grow] has rendered us a nation of wary label-readers, oddly uneasy in our obligate relationship with the things we eat. We call our food animals by different names after they’re dead, presumably sparing ourselves any vision of the beefs and porks running around on actual hooves. Our words for unhealthy contamination – ‘soiled’ or ‘dirty’ – suggest that if we really knew the number-one ingredient of a garden, we’d all head straight into therapy. I used to take my children’s friends out to the garden to warm them up to the idea of eating vegetables, but this strategy sometimes backfired: they’d back away slowly saying, ‘Oh man, those things touched dirt!’ Adults do the same by pretending it all comes from the clean, well-lighted grocery store.”

So how’s that for “food for thought?” How many of your kids know where their food comes from and how it got to the supermarket in the first place? While I am a big fan of buying locally I also love the idea of growing our own food locally…as in our own backyard. There is no carbon footprint whatsoever when you grow it yourself, and this is the perfect time of year to start a summer garden (at least where we live!). And growing your own fruits and vegetables can actually be a rather simple process if you start small. All you need is a pot, some dirt, a plant, some organic fertilizer, and a little TLC. In fact, you can even skip the pot and just cut open the top of the bag of soil and plop a tomato plant right in the dirt if you want. There is no better way to learn about what it takes to grown your own food than doing it yourself. It can actually be kind of fun and rewarding as well. Here’s some info on how to get started: Homegrown easier than you think.

As we’ve discussed locally grown food products not only support local farmers and are more nutritious, but they are much better for our environment as well. Aside from having to travel far distances from the farm to your plate an unbelievable amount of fossil fuels are utilized throughout the entire growing process at factory farms. Forget our gas guzzling SUVs…nothing sums up just how much energy is actually used to grow, fertilize, harvest, pack, and ship produce all over the world better than one last quote from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:

“If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week, any meal, composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. … Small changes in buying habits can make big differences.”

In case you don’t already know where to shop for local foods in your area, it’s time to google a local (preferably grower’s only) farmers’ market. Or you can try searching on either localharvest.org, eatwild.com or the USDA website. Not all markets sell 100% local foods so make sure you ask questions.

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32 thoughts on “Why Eat Local Foods?”

  1. Just wanted to spread the word about a local source of food for those who live in Charlotte like I do. Go-Go Fresco is a mobile farmer’s market that obtains fresh produce and other foods (dairy, meat, baked goods) from within 40 miles of Charlotte. They then sell the products at various churches and business around Charlotte and donate portions of their revenue to the non-profit they are selling at or a featured non-profit if selling at a corporation. I saw a sign about Go-Go Fresco at a church near my house and found a lot of goodies when I went to their mobile farmer’s market including local honey, purple sweet potatoes, and gai lan (aka. Chinese broccoli). I don’t believe every single food there fit the rules, like some of the baked goods for example. Still, its a great farmer’s market to support and it is super convenient for those who don’t live close to a local farmer’s market.

  2. How far away is still considered local? I live in southwest Iowa in a small town. I travel to Omaha , NE to the nearest Trader Joes and Whole Foods as much as I can to stock up. There is an abundance of meat around here but not a lot organic or grass fed options. This is one of the pledges that makes me feel like I may not be able to follow the rules specifically! I will use the resources you gave and do my research. I quests all the work it takes to find find something healthier is worth it in the end! Do you find it easier after awhile? After you know what to buy and where to get it? I have a feeling I will be stocking my freezer!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Amber. There is no hard and fast rule but do your best to find sources as close to you as possible. It may take some time and experimentation to figure out how to make it work for you but once you know what is available in your area it becomes much more routine. Use the resources that Lisa listed in this post to aid you on your search: ” it’s time to google a local (preferably grower’s only) farmers’ market. Or you can try searching on either localharvest.org, eatwild.com or the USDA website”. Hope that helps. ~Amy

  3. I am going to be easing into this. I needs to use up the foods I have and replace with the good food. I am single person with very limited funds but I am determined to do this. I just went to the grocery store and actually looked at the labels before putting things in my cart and all I can say is WOW….what an eye opener!! Thanks for this blog/ website it is amazing and super helpful :)

  4. Hi! 2 adults, 4 children here in Charlotte … we are all over this mini-pledge! Every meal, every day – something local, if not everything local. We had been eating something local daily but I think we can step it up now that our garden is in full swing! Thanks so much for all these great ideas!

  5. Two adults, two children! Here in the North East local vegetables are tough to come by. I have been getting local honey, eggs and milk for some time now, we planted the garden this weekend (hopefully the seedlings don’t drown!) I will shop the farmers market once it opens weekly and I am turning in our livestock CSA form this week. Thank you for all the great ideas – I’m a little behind and just started the no refined sugar pledge… I had a tough time sourcing local honey to use.

  6. 1 adult & 1 child. We are getting our first CSA pickup of the season tomorrow – so we’ll be ready! We’ve had some asparagus already, but Mother Nature has been confusing all the plants: too cold, too hot, too wet….! We are also looking into a Buyer’s Group for pasture-raised meats. Love love love your site!!

  7. Went to the farmer’s market over the weekend – doing great so far. I’m in for the week. I bought so much lettuce I’ll have to eat it at every meal just to use it up:) Thanks for the motivation!

  8. I’ve started a whole blog about this very topic. I think it is very important for my family to eat as much as possible from local sources and less from the store. I’m so glad to see others getting on board with this idea! We are excited to watch how our journey will change our wallets, health and impact our community! Thank you for this post! I’m a huge fan of your blog!

  9. Just yesterday my son and I attended a local winery here in S.Jersey that hosted an event called The Table. It featured all local and season fish, meat, produce as well as wine. Attending that event just reinforced everything that I have learned from this and other sites that promote whole, healthy eating.

    With that, you can guarentee that Im in on this challange as is my husband and son.

  10. After reading through your challenges and sharing info with my husband, we have decided to start taking steps to change our family’s food. We already garden, and eat a lot of produce (and drink green smoothies every morning), and because of my gluten- and dairy-allergies we do not buy a lot of processed foods. We are now looking into changing our milk and eggs from conventional to organic and pastured. I just ordered more good oils (unrefined coconut, avocado, and sesame) from mountainroseherbs.com, my favorite supplier out here on the West Coast. We are blessed to have a good supply of organics available in our local supermarkets, plus a big natural foods supermarket (PCC) less than a mile away. I went to the farmers’ market today and got pastured eggs and some organic pastured cheeses for my boys (husband and 2 teenaged sons) to try. They really liked the ones I bought – yogurt cheese (instead of cream cheese) and a couple flavors of gouda.
    It is a BIG price change to accept. A dozen organic pastured eggs are $5 here, vs. $1 to $1.50 for conventional. We are considering keeping a few hens in the future. We do have a Great Harvest bread store in the area, but not close by. For now, I am trying my hand at baking some whole-wheat honey loaves. I baked 2 loaves of braided challah today, and the guys liked them.
    So, just wanted to thank you for all your time and trouble to write this blog. You’re still influencing lives! (I also made your Jambalaya and granola recipes, with tweaks to make them dairy- and gluten-free)

  11. Great Challenge! We’re in at the Bohanan household. My daughter and I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle together recently and she got busy and started an organic vegetable garden…with a little help of course. Our Farmer’s Market just re-opened about four weeks ago and we love it. It’s only open on Saturday morning but today we got some incredible greens, sweet onions, honey and a locally brewed root beer.

  12. Done and Done! Signed up for a CSA through a local organic farm. I am loving the fresh veggies I get every friday. Starting to check out a local organic meat farm… just need to find the extra money in our budget! Thanks for your site, love it!

  13. I can’t wait for my first CSA to start, but unfortunately it doesn’t until the last week in June! In the meantime I will continue to buy fresh eggs and beef from my local farmer, pork and chicken when I can get it, and will hitting my first farmer’s market this weekend! So I’m in on this pledge, along with my hubby and 2 kids.

  14. I’m so glad you made this challenge “reasonable” for people who are starting out on this journey of eating whole foods….instead of eating ALL local foods at every meal, incorporating ONE local food at each meal. Certainly the more local you can eat, the better. However, too often people think of things as “all or nothing”, get overwhelmed and don’t follow through. In reality, baby steps all add up to a whopping change in lifetyle and attitude. I’m off to my farmers’ market for my “pledge-week” foods!

  15. Myself, hubby and adult child are in on this one for the week. This is a direction I’ve been heading and this will help me to become more aware of the gaps I need to fill. We’ve got our own eggs and chicken, a friend provides us with milk from his cow (and I make cheese and butter from it) and we’re getting a few things from our garden. I’m going to try to go to the Farmer’s Market today for my first time and see what they have.

  16. My farmer’s market just opened 2 weekends ago. I have been each Saturday. I get so excited thinking about what I might find!! Animal, Vegetable, Miracle helped me to understand what it is like for local farmers and to really appreciate what they go through to provide me quality food. I buy as much local meats, butter, eggs, milk, cheese, vegetables, honey, maple syrup, garden plants and even bars of soap as I can. I am in for this challenge. Maybe 1 more adult & 1 teen 2x a day.

  17. 2 adults and three kids. Our milk, cheese, and eggs are all within 90 miles, but I’m not sure how “local” we need to be. We’ve got potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, and herbs already harvested from our garden though!

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      Usually within 100 miles is considered to be “local”…so you are good to go!

  18. This is a good one! We recently started buying local, and my goal this summer is to get most of our food from local farms, and farmers markets. Yesterday I went to a farm and got eggs, butter, 2 whole chickens, grass fed ground beef patties, cheese, and raw honey :) My family five is in for this challenge!

  19. Perfect timing, I have my first CSA pickup this weekend. I have 2 adults who are in.

  20. A week late, but we will be getting out first CSA bag on the 29th. Our meat is all local since they come from my aunts farm. She butchers the cattle and hogs for us herself.

  21. There will be two of us, aiming for every meal. Breakfast is the only meal where we aren’t already eating something local, so that’s where we’ll have to make our biggest change. Shouldn’t be too hard with the farmers markets having some great strawberries lately!

  22. We *just* started the farmers market up here in the northeast, so it’s a good time to start. One of my family’s favorite things in the summer is to eat lunch, tailgate-style, at the farmers market. We eat locally made breads, granolas, cheeses, jerky and of course all the vegetables & fruits. I love this challenge, although I don’t need it.

    Speaking of how many plants people used to eat, how about a challenge to eat something out of your yard? We eat dandelions, plaintain (weed pods) and burdock stems – and sometimes get laughed at. But if nature is kind enough to provide you with free, nutritious, readily-available food, I think you’re a snob to turn your nose up at it! Just a suggestion … thanks for the site and the plans :)

  23. Stephanie Franklin

    I am a single person. I will be eating one meal per day using locally grown produce during the challenge.

  24. Love this one! I love supporting my farmers’ market. We already eat local at least once a day. I’d like to take this challange and try to eat something local for every meal for the entire week. 2 – me and my husband

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