June is generally the month that most Farmers Markets get underway with local farmers bringing their fresh produce to one central location to display and market the fruits of their labor. Farmers taking part in the local Farmers Markets know that they have something more to offer to local consumers than the supermarket chains. They know that consumers today are more health conscious than ever and when shopping the local markets, they are prepared to spend time browsing, looking for the best among the best, and taking home quality produce. Winston County Self Help Cooperative (WCSHC) continues its mission to “Help Save Rural America” by not only promoting the efforts of local farmers, but also by participating in the local Farmers Market themselves. Many consumers are still unaware of the advantages of eating local foods, but here’s a little food for thought WCSHC would like to disclose.
Did you know that much of the produce sold in large supermarket chains is actually grown hundreds of miles away? Most produce we eat in the United States is grown in places like California, Florida, and Mexico. That means that by the time the produce reaches your home, days, perhaps a week or more have passed since it was picked, packaged, and trucked to the store. Produce bought in the stores is often picked before it is ready, inhibiting it from ever reaching its nutritional potential. Buying locally grown fruits and vegetable allow you to get produce at its peak form according to Darlene Price, Senior Nutrition Resource Educator at Orange County Cornell Cooperative Extension. You can never be sure how long produce has been sitting in the supermarket, but when it’s locally grown, it ready to eat right now. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables allow us to consume many of our essential vitamins; but did you know that vitamin stability decreases over time? Things such as temperature changes, exposure to artificial light and air all rob fruits and vegetables of their nutrients. Local farmers will plant what is delicious, healthy and in local demand, while commercial counterparts are restricted to crops that can survive long storage and the strenuous transportation process. Local farmers never have to contend with factoring in traveling miles for their produce; however the average grocery store potato travels 1,500 miles. So buying from local farmers means getting closer to your food and it affords you the opportunity to get to know your producer.
And if you need 10 good reasons to eat local foods (from Treehugger, a Discovery company and leading media outlet dedicated to driving sustainability main stream), try these on for size.
Eating local means more for the local economy. Studies have shown that a dollar spent locally generates twice as much income for the local economy. Therefore, when businesses are not locally owned, money leaves the community at every transaction.
Locally grown produce is fresher. While produce that is purchased in the supermarket or a big-box store has been in transit or cold-stored for days or weeks, produce that you purchase at your local farmer’s market has often been picked within 24 hours of your purchase.
Local food just plain tastes better. Ever tried a tomato that was picked within 24 hours? “Nuff “said.
Locally grown fruits and vegetables have longer to ripen. Because the produce will be handled less, locally grown fruit does not have to be rugged or to stand up to the rigors of shipping. This means that you are going to be getting peaches so ripe that they fall apart as you eat them, figs that would have been smashed to bits if they were sold using traditional methods and melons that were allowed to ripen until the last possible minute on the vine.
Eating local is better for air quality and pollution than eating organic. In March 2005 study by the Journal Food Policy; it was found that the miles that organic food often travels to our plates create environmental damage that outweighs the benefit of buying organic.
Buying local food keeps us in touch with the seasons. By eating with the seasons, we are eating foods when they are at their peak taste, are the most abundant, and the least expensive.
Buying locally grown food is fodder for a wonderful story. On May 17, 2011, MSNBC reported that acres of watermelons fields in eastern China were covered with exploded fruit. Farmers used growth chemicals to make their crop larger, trying to cash in on soaring watermelon prices. However, they ended up destroying the crop instead. The farmers used the growth accelerator “forchlorfenuron” and applied it too late in the season. Heavy rains sealed the fate of the melons, infusing them with moisture causing them to explode. Even melons that survived tended to have fibrous, misshapen fruit with mostly white instead of black seeds.
Whether it’s the farmer who brings apples to market or the baker who makes bread, knowing part of the story about your food is such a powerful part of enjoying the meal. You get to conduct your own interview.
Eating local protects us for bioterrorism. Food with less distance to travel from farm to plate has less susceptibility to harmful contamination.
Local food translates to more variety. When a farmer is producing food that will not travel a long distance, will have a shorter shelf life, and does not have a high-yield demand, the farmer is free to try small crops of various fruits and vegetables that would probably never make it to a large supermarket. Supermarkets are interested in selling Name brand: Romaine Lettuce, Red Delicious apples, Russet Potatoes. Local producers often play with their crop from year to year, trying out Little Gem Lettuce, Senshu Apples, and Chieftain Potatoes.
Supporting local providers supports responsible land development. When you buy local, you give those with local open space – farms and pastures – an economic reason to stay open and undeveloped.
More and more, people are becoming interested in local food products and with good reason. Don’t allow yourself to be forced into buying produce because that’s all the supermarket has to offer. Take the guessing out of the quality, freshness, its origin, and if harmful chemicals were used on the produce you are buying. Supporting your local farmers and farmers markets are wise investments and you can get all the facts straight from the horse’s mouth - A “Win, Win” situation for both Consumers and Producers.