Where You Live: Five Reasons to Buy Local Food
Farmer's Market starts in April this year. Even if I weren't
a vendor, I'd be there, buying as much of my food as possible
from my Indiana neighbors. I believe in buying and eating
local foods as a powerful political, environmental, health-supporting,
and life-enhancing act. Here are some of the reasons I think
it's important that we consider not just what we eat, but
from where we eat.
1. Conserving fossil fuels and reducing pollution. Commercially
produced fresh food travels a long way to get to your table.
One study found that tomatoes consumed in the eastern U.S.
had traveled an average of 2,786 miles. That's a lot of
diesel. Compare this to the food you can buy at the Bloomington
Farmer's Market, which must be grown in Indiana. That's
a maximum travel distance of less than 250 miles--usually
much less, and sometimes just a few blocks.
2. Fresher is better. Most produce begins losing nutrients
(as well as flavor) as soon as it is harvested. Local farmers
can bring you the freshest, most nutritious foods, sometimes
only hours post-harvest. Commercial crops are bred for long
shelf life, sturdiness, and uniform size. Small, local growers,
who use hand labor and don't ship their product, can choose
varieties for taste.
Buying organic at the store usually means relying on a certification
agency you've never heard of to verify that Dole or General
Mills is telling the truth. The people who sell food at
the Farmer's Market are the people who grow it. You can
ask the grower exactly how the food was produced, and get
detailed answers; you may even be able to visit the farm.
I believe local farmers are more likely to tell the truth
than are large corporations, because they rely on you, personally,
for their income--not on giant pools of anonymous consumers.
Word of mouth is a local farmer's best advertising, and
his or her good name is an irreplaceable resource.
Community. When you buy local, you do more than exchange
money for goods. You invest in a local economy and help
to shape its course. Your money supports the livelihood
of your neighbors, not shareholder profits for people who
will never see either you or your food. And you participate
in creating the world you want to live in: For example,
when you ask a local farmer about spraying and request organic
produce, you aren't just influencing the residues on that
day's salad. If that farmer chooses more natural growing
methods to please the local market, his or her decision
affects our air and water quality. If that farmer is able
to stay in business by selling direct to you, many acres
may stay in fields and woodland rather than urban sprawl.
When the farmer buys mulch hay, hauls manure, or hires the
neighbor kids to pick hornworms instead of buying industrial
agricultural products, your dollar enriches our community
even more. By supporting and encouraging sustainable agriculture
at the local level, you can shape the future of this place.
also fun. Come to the market--find out what is in season
each month, each week. Try something new, or something your
grandparents would remember. Say hi to your friends, sign
a petition, give a dollar to the guitar player. Buy some
plants and get some advice for growing your own local food.
Let your kids play in the fountain and meet the adoptable
dogs. We'll see you there!
--Denise Breeden-Ost raises vegetables and a son
with her husband, Sean, in and near Bloomington, Indiana.