Strolling through your local farmer’s market on a Sunday morning, squeezing peaches to test their ripeness, popping free samples of berries into your mouth, chatting with the vendors about the weather, the food, the local news: this is community nutrition at its finest.
Many people agree that shopping at a farmer’s market, while arguably a bit pricier, is worth it for the freshness, the community, and the open-air wonder. Most people view local, sustainable eating as a worthy endeavor, but leave it for someone else to pursue.
But did you know that eating locally is not only better for the environment but also better for your health? Here are five ways eating food grown locally is better for you.
1. Local food is loaded with more nutrients.
Produce that has to be hauled across the country for weeks or even months before stocking the shelves of the grocery store is going to have fewer nutrients (and less flavor) than produce that has been freshly picked.
From the moment a fruit or vegetable is picked, it begins losing nutritional values such as vitamins C, E, B, and A. So the closer to the day of harvesting your produce is, the better it will fuel your body with these much-needed nutrients.
2. Small, local farms tend to care for their produce more naturally.
Even if farms near you are not certified organic, they likely grow their food, be it fruits, vegetables, or animal products, more carefully, naturally, and sustainable.
I know local farms who are not certified organic but run a fully organic operation, choosing not to become certified because the fees and government involvement are not worth it to them.
Their loyal following know that no sprays are used, no genetic modification occurs, free range really does indicate free range, and the produce is grown with love and attention.
Small farms have the ability to gain trusting, loyal customers who see the hands that pick the food they’re eating.
3. Supporting local farms supports local economy.
The money that you spend at the farmer’s market won’t be wasted, because not only are you getting the best nutritional value for the food you’re buying, but you’re also putting money back into the local economy.
The presence of farms within a hundred miles, especially if you live in an urban setting, is better for your immediate community because it purifies the air, supports local jobs, encourages diversity of landscape, and advocates for a more sustainable city life.
4. Eating locally reduces your carbon footprint.
With each truckload of tomatoes that you fund when you buy tomatoes from across the country, unnecessary fuel is used.
With each out-of-season fruit or vegetable you buy, you support the use of energy that kept preserved them until you were ready for them.
By buying food directly from local sources, you withhold your support from unnecessary shipping, freezing, and genetic modifying that burns fossil fuels and increases your carbon footprint.
5. Eating locally and in-season syncs you to the natural cycle of the land.
There must be a reason that fruits and vegetables only grow at certain times each year. What if we ate what the land offered, as it offered it?
I am a firm believer in gardening, getting your hands into dirt and plants, eating fruit directly off the tree, and giving thanks for food as it presents itself to you.
Of course, in the dead of cold-climate winters we need to get more creative, but in general, a lifestyle of syncing with the land around you is a refreshing approach to eating.
So do a quick Google search for small farms near you. Check out your library for books or memoirs on sustainable farming and agriculture.
Get to know the food that grows in your area, and when it grows, and maybe shift your diet a bit to eat the freshest, most nutritious food you can right when it pops out of the ground or falls off the tree.
Do all this so that next Sunday morning as you stroll through the farmers’ market, you can chat knowledgeably with the farmers about the crops that year, the practices they maintain, and how grateful you are for the beautiful bounty the earth offers us season by season, farm by farm.