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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