The practice of “eating local” is probably best known for its environmental and economic benefits, such as reducing waste and fossil fuel use, supporting more ethical and environmentally sound farming practices, contributing to biodiversity through the conservation of heritage breeds and regional agricultural knowledge, as well as strengthening food security and local economies.
But did you know that there are also many personal health benefits to local food?
Local produce has much greater nutritional value than imported, supermarket produce. This is because it is picked at peak ripeness, instead of being harvested early for storage and the long journey to grocery stores around the world. Most produce has a long wait from farm to table which results in loss of certain nutrients. Highly processed food, of course, also suffers nutritionally. Furthermore, consumer habits that focus on purchasing locally and seasonally available food tend to lead to more diversified diets with a greater emphasis on fresh foods. Local food is also typically organic and often GMO-free. Knowing where your food comes from keeps consumers conscious and knowledgeable, and keeps food producers accountable to the communities they serve and participate in. A shorter, more transparent supply chain means a safer food supply.
Local farmers are a great asset to our communities and to many important environmental and health choice causes such as the right to choose organic and non-GMO foods. And local food is nutritious and beneficial to our personal health! So, what are some easy ways to support local food and local farmers?
Choose local. This is probably pretty self-evident, but there are lots of ways to choose local. Support restaurants that menus around local and seasonal ingredients. Explore local farmers’ markets – this is also a great way to develop relationships with local farms. If your supermarket stocks local produce, choose those, and if they don’t, request that they do. Choosing local is a direct way to help farmers financially, and sends a message to distributors that consumers want to see local options.
Eat seasonally. Become familiar with the crops that are seasonally available in your region and plan your meals accordingly. Embrace root vegetables in the winter and leave berries for a summer treat! Eating seasonally is a great way to diversify your diet and get inspired to try new things. More importantly, it will make eating locally come naturally. Appreciating seasonally available produce means no longer expecting to eat strawberries in the middle of winter, and therefore not being tempted by unseasonable produce shipped from far away.
Try less popular crops. There are many crops that are important to crop rotation and keeping soil healthy and fertile, but are not familiar and popular to a society used to monoculture and mass agriculture. Crops such as certain beans and mustard seed are not big sellers, so farmers often use them only as animal feed and other alternative uses, losing out on potential profit. Experimenting with these unfamiliar crops and purchasing them from farmers is another way to directly financially support local farms – and diversify your diet and food knowledge!
Volunteer. Many small farms have need for volunteer labour. This is a great way to learn about agriculture and food production while contributing to building robust local food supplies. You will also keep healthier by spending time outside and getting your exercise.
Get involved in initiatives to improve access to fresh, local food community-wide. The sad reality is that fresh, local food tends to be expensive and not widely distributed. Large segments of society do not have the ability to “choose local” for numerous reasons – financial and basic availability being major ones. If you do have the resources, time, and knowledge to buy local and fresh, you can help to build stronger and more prosperous local food supplies by doing so. More local food production should lead to better accessibility. However, this is a slow process and nutritious, ethical food should not be an inaccessible privilege. Get involved with local food banks, community gardens, and other social services with initiatives to make local, organic, and fresh food more widely accessible.