When it comes to eating better, many of us have considered incorporating more organic, local produce into our diets. But it can be hard to change our routines, especially when they might involve a little extra time or cost. As summer winds down, here are some incentives for skipping the supermarket this week in favour of checking out your local farmer’s market for the last of the season’s bounty.
If you’ve ever tried growing any of your own vegetables or had an acquaintance with an overabundant harvest of tomatoes or zucchini, you can probably attest to the fact that there’s no comparison between the taste of home-grown and supermarket produce. Locally-grown produce brings that same abundance of taste to the table, meaning you can banish the watery tomatoes and mealy apples forever. If you’ve been hovering on the fence, try conducting your own taste test to see if you can’t tell the difference.
This comes back to the reason locally-grown produce tastes better in the first place: it’s fresher. While some grocery store items, such as spinach, may only be a few weeks old, others sit in cold storage for a year before they arrive at the supermarket. Did you know that, in the US, the average age of a supermarket apple is 14 months old? In contrast, the produce at the farmer’s market is generally picked within the past 24 hours. Naturally, this also means that locally-bought food will last longer once you bring it home.
Fresher food contains more nutrients. Fruits and vegetables begin to lose their optimal nutritional value as soon as they are picked, so the more time between harvest and table, the fewer vitamins and other nutrients they contain. Local farmers are also able to allow their produce to ripen more fully before harvesting it, which means that it is picked at its peak state when it has higher amounts of nutrients.
Eating locally means eating seasonally. This can inspire creativity in your meal plans – without an endless selection of produce year-round, you’re encouraged to improvise and play around with new vegetables that you otherwise wouldn’t try. Eating with the seasons also allows you to anticipate those strawberries all year – and savour them even more as they come into season.
When farmers sell locally, they’re not bound to the standard varieties that meet the criteria for long distance shipping, high yields, and shelf life. Instead, they can grow more diverse crops, including varieties that are specific to your region.
When your food passes through fewer hands and steps, there are fewer possibilities for contamination, keeping your food, and you, safer. Buying local also gives you opportunities to talk directly with the people who produced your food so you can find out exactly what’s in it.
According to Michael Pollan, an American author and activist, the average fruit or vegetable travels 1,500 miles from farm to table. Buying local has the potential to decrease your food’s environmental impact as it travels a shorter distance and typically makes one trip – from farm to market – in contrast to the long distance shipment and subsequent trips through processing plants and distribution centres that conventional produce takes.
Eating fresh, local food encourages you to make smaller and more frequent trips to the shops (a very European way of doing things), which means that you will generally have slightly less in your fridge at any one time. This should help you to plan your meals better and use up all of the ingredients you have before they go bad and need to be throw out. The US alone wastes 141 trillion calories every year, or 1,249 calories per person per day; not only is reducing waste better for the environment, it’s better for your wallet too.
By buying local, you are supporting your local economy and helping farmers and businesses in your area. Your money stays closer to home and is reinvested in your community. Plus, the people who grow your food tend to see more of the money. In the US, farmers who sell directly to customers keep 80-90 cents of each dollar, while in conventional markets, only about 16 cents goes to the farmer. The other 84 cents go to suppliers, processors, and other middlemen.
Finally, buying local gives you an opportunity to participate more actively in your community. As you interact with the people who produce your food, you’ll have great conversations and develop a closer bond with your community, as well as a greater sense of transparency and trust. It’s incredibly satisfying to know exactly where your food came from.
It’s not always practical to buy all of your produce locally, and the climate and culture where you live will have a big impact on how easy it is to do. Changing your habits takes time, and you don’t have to do it all at once, so why not try just buying a few of your favourite items from local suppliers this week, and build on it from there? You may soon find you’re addicted to this way of shopping.
Author: Elizabeth Vather