The buy local movement has grown tremendously in recent years and with good reason, the benefits of local food are plenty. From health benefits to environmental benefits and social benefits, here are some of the most important reasons to support your local farmer.
The foundation of any healthy diet, no matter the goal, is the quality of the food you eat. Whether you are trying to lose weight, increase energy, train for a marathon, or are simply looking to eat a little better, nothing will have a greater impact than the quality of the food you consume.
Prioritizing whole food is incredibly important, but there is a big difference between the apple grown down the street and the orange flown in from across the world. In fact, one can argue that the benefits of eating local food will trump any calories, supplements, or organic ingredients you will ever consume.
The Benefits of Eating Local
Here are 10 reasons why eating local food benefits you, your health, and your community.
1. Local food is fresher.
Compared to food that is shipped in from other states or countries, locally grown food is grown within the community. At many farmers markets, the local produce has been picked within the last 24 hours, often the morning of or the day before. As a result, fruit and vegetables can stay on the vine or in the soil, allowing them the remain ripe and more flavorful, and other foods, such as local eggs and milk, are much fresher.
In contrast, most supermarket produce is picked days or weeks prior to reaching the grocery store shelf and is forced to ripen along the way. Moreover, other food items, are forced to be frozen or processed to maintain shelf-life, which can decrease their freshness and nutritional value.
2. Local food contains more nutrients.
As soon as a food is harvested its nutrient content begins to deteriorate. While produce that has traveled still has nutritional value, local produce is typically more nutrient-dense.
When produce is picked at peak ripeness, micronutrients like potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin C, and vitamin A can be found at higher concentrations (1, 2). Moreover, the antioxidant content of some produce declines during storage. Although all fruits and vegetables, fresh and frozen, are healthy choices, opting for local produce can help to ensure you are consuming more nutrients.
3. Local food supports your seasonal needs.
When you eat locally, you eat with the seasons, and the cycle of seasonal produce is perfectly designed to support your health. If you get back to basics and consider how humans ate before the modern grocery store system, we simply ate what was available to us at that time of year. Eating seasonally is the most natural way to eat, and one of the most beneficial to our bodies.
In the peak of summer, our bodies require cooling foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, and berries to help us handle the elements, while in the dark and cold days of winter, we need rich and warming high-fat foods, root vegetables, and fermented foods. Our local seasons provide the ideal foods for our body’s natural needs based on our geographic location.
4. Local food produces less waste.
Purchasing locally grown foods shortens the distribution chain, forcing food directly from farm to fork, and less waste is produced in the process. Not only does buying locally mean less packaging via transportation and shipping, but it also means less environmental waste from pollution and less food waste in the process as well.
Buying a CSA from a local farm or shopping at a farmers market ensures less packaging is used and that food is moved directly from a farm to you, which minimizes emissions and food waste in the process.
5. Local food promotes a safer food supply.
The more steps there are in getting your food from farm to fork, the more chances there are for contamination. When food travels across countries, there are far more points of contact, which increases the potential for food safety issues during harvesting, washing, shipping, and distribution.
Moreover, by buying locally grown food you are supporting local farmers and helping to preserve valuable farmland and green spaces. By choosing local food, you are contributing to the sustainability of your community’s food supply and helping to ensure that these valuable resources are protected for future generations.
6. Eating locally promotes variety.
Eating healthy can get boring if you stick to the basics; there are only so many times you can eat oatmeal for breakfast and chicken with broccoli for dinner. However, eating local food forces you to discover new foods and new ways of cooking.
For instance, there are arguably no more than 5 varieties of tomatoes in most major grocery stores, yet local farmers are keeping nearly 300 varieties of tomatoes alive every single year, leaving little room for boredom. From garlic scapes to kohlrabi to kabocha squash, shopping locally grown food allows you to enjoy a diverse selection of produce and be more creative in the kitchen.
7. Eating locally supports the local economy.
When you buy food in the grocery store most of the cost you incur goes to the transportation, processing, packaging, refrigeration, and marketing of that food, and not necessarily to the farmers themselves. When you buy from a local farmer, farmers market, or local shop, you are supporting your local economy by supporting local jobs, and your money goes back into producing more local food for you.
8. Eating locally supports sustainable agriculture.
Eating locally encourages the diversification of local agriculture and crop variety. This reduces the reliance on monoculture; single crops grown over a wide area to the detriment of soils. The reality is that our food is only as nutrient-dense as the soil in which it is grown. Although strawberries are known to contain high levels of vitamin C, these levels are heavily dependent on the quality of the soil in which they are produced.
9. Eating local supports mindful eating.
It’s easy to scarf down a microwavable meal when you know nothing about where it came from, who produced it, and how it got to your plate. However, when you shop locally you are more connected to the food you eat; knowing who produced it, what farm it came from, and exactly how it got from farm to fork.
When it comes to eating mindfully, there are many more components than just what we are eating, the who, where, when, how, and why are just as important, if not more. Shopping and eating locally make you more connected to your food and the impacts it has on your body.
10. Eating local gives power to the consumer.
If you choose not to grow, harvest, and raise your own food, you vote with your dollar every single time you buy food. If you buy processed foods or imported foods you are creating more demand for these products. In contrast, if you buy local and demand local foods at your local grocery store, you are creating a very different demand.
Every time you buy from a local farmer you have an opportunity to ask questions, learn about their farming practices, and gain a better understanding of your food. While consumers often complain about the state of our food and agriculture systems, the reality is, as a consumer you have a choice and a lot of power.
The Bottom Line
From your health to the economy, there are many benefits of eating local. Local food is fresher, more flavorful, and more nutritious, and eating local food benefits the consumer, local farmers, and, in turn, the local economy and land. The more you eat locally the more you are able to reconnect with food and recognize the importance of real food and how it impacts your body. By supporting local farmers today, you are ensuring that there will be local farms in your community tomorrow, and that is something that is important for us all.