Locally-grown foods, picked and eaten at the height of ripeness, are fresh and have exceptional flavor. Supermarket food travels on average 1,500 miles from farm to table. Most fruit and vegetable varieties sold in supermarkets are chosen for their ability to withstand industrial harvesting equipment and extended travel. Freshness and taste are sacrificed for the products’ ability to travel. Locally-grown foods are picked and eaten at the height of ripeness and have exceptional flavor. They are usually sold within 24 hours of being harvested; they are incredibly fresh. Also, local farmers can offer produce varieties bred for taste rather than for shipping and long shelf life.
Supermarket fruits and vegetables can spend 7-14 days in transit, losing much of their nutrient content. Locally-grown foods are freshly picked and full of nourishment. Once produce is picked, it loses its vitamins and nutrients over time. Fruits and vegetables can spend 7-14 days in transit before arriving in the supermarket. By the time they reach the dinner table, much of their nutrient content might already be gone. In contrast, locally-grown produce is usually picked and sold within 24 hours, ensuring nutrient-dense food for your table.
Knowing where your food comes from and how it is grown or raised enables you to choose safe food from farmers who avoid or reduce their use of inorganic fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, or genetically modified seed in their operations.
Recent egg, peanut, tomato, spinach, beef and other recalls highlight the problems with industrial agriculture. Buy food from local farmers you trust, and feel secure knowing that your food is safe.
3. Family Farms
With each local food purchase, more of our money spent on food goes directly to local farmers, ensuring that Lehigh Valley family farms continue to be economically viable. The USDA recently reported (February, 2011) that farmers only receive 11.6 cents of each food dollar, down from 20 cents in 1999. Food processing, transportation, packaging, and energy account for nearly three times that amount.
By choosing locally-grown foods, we are ensuring that family farms in the Greater Lehigh Valley continue to be economically viable, and that farmland and healthy, flavorful food will be available for future generations.
4. The Environment
Locally-grown food doesn’t have to travel far, reducing fossil fuel dependence, carbon emissions, and packing materials. Industrialized farming methods were developed to support large-scale, energy-intensive monocultures. They use huge amounts of water and chemicals for herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers, and produce tons of animal waste products that accumulate and pollute the land, water, and air. The leading threat to the health of the Chesapeake Bay is excess nitrogen and phosphorus pollution (fertilizer runoff) that destroys habitat and causes fish kills.
Most conventionally-produced food is extremely resource intensive. The US spends about $239 billion each year on energy to bring food to our tables, 80-90% of which is used in post-production: processing, packaging, shipping, storage, and retail operations.
Local food doesn’t have to travel far, reducing fossil fuel dependence, CO2 emissions, and packing materials. Sustainable food:
• is grown in our own foodshed by a local farmer;
• is grown at a scale appropriate to the area;
• involves minimal ecological disruption and processing; and
• is grown under healthy working conditions.
Consumers have enormous leveraging power in bringing about a more sustainable food system. The choices we make about the food we eat have a direct effect on other people and the land we live on.
5. Our Local Economy
Lehigh Valley consumers spend $1.6 billion on food annually. If 10% of this were spent on locally-grown food, this would generate $160 million in income for our farmers and an extra $72 million to circulate in our community and create new jobs. Buying locally-grown food keeps our food dollars circulating in our community, rather than sending them to distant corporations. A Maine study (1) compared spending $1 at a national chain store as compared to a local retailer, and found that the national chain store yields a return of just 14 cents to the local economy (usually as low-wage service jobs), whereas the local retailer returns 45 cents to the local economy.
Buying local provides three times more investment in our local economy!
A study (2) by David Swenson of Iowa State University considered the statewide economic value to farmers and regional economies of substituting locally-grown foods for 28 imported foods. It was found that, in Illinois, for every dollar spent on locally-grown foods, 65 cents was returned to the local economy.
Buying locally-grown food can provide nearly five times more investment in our local economy!
1 The Economic Impact of Locally Owned Businesses vs. Chains: A Case Study in Midcoast Maine Institute for Local Self-Reliance, September 2003
2 David Swenson, Iowa State University “Selected Measures of the Economic Values of Increased Fruit and Vegetable Production and Consumption in the Upper Midwest,” March 2010
This post is excerpted from Buy Fresh Buy Local Greater Lehigh Valley’s 2011 Local Foods Guide. You can pick up a free copy of this guide at farmers’ markets throughout the Lehigh Valley.
Buy Fresh Buy Local (BFBL) is a national program that connects consumers to fresh, locally-grown foods. The Greater Lehigh Valley chapter of BFBL (BFBL-GLV) is helping residents of Berks, Lehigh, and Northampton Counties find, choose, and appreciate great locally-grown foods, while supporting the farmers and lands that produce them. BFBL-GLV is a program of the Nurture Nature Center, a 501(c)(3) organization. You can find them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter, too.
Photo at top: Subarashii Kudamono Asian Pear
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