Nutrition Articles

4 Good Reasons to Buy Local Food

The Benefits of Eating Locally Grown Produce

If you’re buying California-grown organic strawberries because you know organic food is better for the environment, then you might want to reconsider your purchase—or at least your motivations. While choosing organic over "conventional" does reduce the pesticide burden on the ecosystem, shipping organic food thousands of miles across the country creates an even greater environmental woe—fossil fuel consumption. Says Barbara Kingsolver, author of the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, transporting fruit from California to New York, for example, is about "as efficient as driving from Philadelphia to Annapolis and back in order to walk three miles on a treadmill in a Maryland gym."

In a 2005 issue of the journal Food Policy, researchers stated that although organic farming is valuable, the fact that organic food often travels thousands of miles to get to our supermarkets creates environmental damage that outweighs the benefit of buying organic.

Before the advent of the highway, most food was grown or raised on family farms, packaged or processed nearby, and sold in local retail outlets. Today, this has become the exception to the rule, as the average North American meal logs more than 1,500 miles from farm to table. Although this shift results in an exceptional selection at the grocery store, it causes a host of other problems. Taste, quality, freshness, and nutritional value all decrease, and the environmental burden balloons.

So what’s the alternative? Buy local. Buying food that a nearby farmer has grown or raised uses far less fossil fuels, and the benefits don’t stop there. Locally grown food is also better for:
  • Your taste buds: Traditionally, farmers selected breeds of crops for their flavor and growing abilities, and let them ripen until ready to eat. Now, more often than not, breeds are selected for their ability to withstand the rigors of cold storage and cross-country transport and are plucked from the vine far before their time. This results in tomatoes whose flavor only slightly resembles tomatoes and strawberries that are strawberries in name only. Buying local will yield food so fresh and ripe that your taste buds won’t know what hit them.
  • Your health: The moment an item of produce parts from its mother plant, its nutritional value begins to decline. Produce at the supermarket has likely been in transit or sitting in the display case for days or weeks. Local produce was probably picked in the last 24 hours and is still in its nutrient prime.
  • Farmers: According to Stewart Smith from the University of Maine, in the year 1900, 40 cents of every dollar a consumer spent on food went to the farmer. Today, only 7 cents goes into the pockets of food growers. The remainder is spent on storage, packaging, marketing, and shipping. Farmers are struggling more than ever as a result. Buying directly from local farmers can help reverse this trend.
  • Your local economy: In his book Eat Here, Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket, Brian Halweil states that, in comparison to imported produce, "a dollar spent locally generates twice as much income for the local economy." All that extra money circulating in your neck of the woods translates into better schools, safer streets, and nicer parks perfect for picnics with all the healthful foods you purchased locally.
Buying local also means buying what’s in season in your area and not buying what isn’t. Thanks to modern supermarkets, we’re so accustomed to having what we want when we want it (watermelon in April, asparagus in September and tomatoes in the dead of winter) that eating any other way sounds like deprivation. Yes, getting used to tomato-less winters can be a challenge. You'll soon realize that tomatoes taste better when you’ve waited for them, not only because they’re at their season’s best, but also because you’ve waited. Kingsolver says, "It’s tempting to reach for melons, red peppers, tomatoes, and other late-summer delights before the summer even arrives. But it’s actually possible to wait, celebrating each season when it comes, not fretting about it being absent at all other times because something else good is at hand." The variety of a local, seasonal menu is a boon to your health, too. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) recommends choosing a variety of foods, to cover all of your nutritional bases. Eating local fits the bill.

There is no strict definition for mileage of local food, but generally anything grown within a 50- to 100-mile radius is considered local, and obviously, the closer the better. The best source for it is your local farmers market. You’ll find veggies, fruits, meats, and cheeses, and you’ll get to buy them from the hands that picked, dug, fed, or cultured them. Depending on what you’re buying, the price may be higher or lower than you’ll pay in a supermarket, but it will always be fresher and tastier. To find a farmer’s market near you, check out

Another option is to join a buying club. Farmers deliver many orders to one person’s home (or another centralized location), and the rest of the club members pick up from there. To find a buying club in your area, visit, select your state, and look for the "Beyond the Farm" link at the top of the page. It will take you to a directory of buying clubs that exist in your state.

Local food isn't just another passing trend. While it might be difficult or impossible to buy all of your food locally, any amount of local food you can find and purchase will still benefit the health of your community, the planet, and your own body, too.

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Member Comments

  • I love our local farmer's markets. It's a plus to living in a rural community.
  • Very interesting and thoughtful comments made. The article points out the tough choices to be made -- it's not a "one shoe fits all" problem.
  • It's pretty hard to get local food that is grown within 60 miles when you live in a big city unless there are community farms that sell their produce. Fortunately, they have started some farmer's markets in the Denver area based on those. But if you want fruit, it comes from the west side of the mountains or from states farther away like California and Washington. We get peaches in late August/early September and Apples in late September/early October. Otherwise they come from California and Washington. Melons are from the state, but over 90 miles away. It just isn't possible to get a lot of things locally grown. At least we do have many places growing things organically.
    The farmers markets in the Dallas area are shams, selling to rich and snobby yuppies. And that's just the way it is all over, snotty Whole Foods patrons thinking they are getting better food because it costs more. It's a croc!
  • Sadly, the "farmers market" in my area is a sham. My husband used to work there and very few of the items are actually locally grown. Having said that, this place is set up like a grocery store and sells exotic fruits & veggies, bakery items, wine/beer, etc.

    It seems that not all farmers markets really are you may wan to do some homework on the place first. Tom Leonard's in Richmond, VA calls themselves a farmers market, but they definitely do not sell much local produce. :(
  • This article focuses on eating organic to "go green" and get chemicals out of the environment, and notes that shipping it across country defeats the purpose. However, most of the people I know who eat organic are doing so because they do not want to save the planet, but their own health: they do not want to CONSUME those pesticides.

    So unless the local farmers are ALSO going organic, then they can't get what they want locally!

    Which is why people will buy organics from California, despite the carbon emissions of shipping it across the country...

  • Thanks for the informative article; I appreciated the links at the end of the article too.

    It IS time to start making better choices regarding what we put into our bodies; eating local makes sense not only for our own health, but for the planet's health as well.

    I buy local now and then, but realistically, not always possible nor practical, you do the best you can. It isn't ever going to be perfect, we are lucky for all the choices we have here!!
  • A few months ago I was having a party so along with healthy options I picked up some mini cupcakes that I picked up in the bakery section of the local Fresh Market and everyone loved them.
    As I was cleaning up from the party I turned the empty cupcake container over and saw it was stamped "Product of Canada."
    I live in Fort Lauderdale FL that was a mighty long trip for a few mini cupcakes. It was not until then that I found out that it's not just fresh produce and meats that are shipped from all over the world.
    I also shop at Publix and while the frozen broccoli was an American product the frozen spinach came from Mexico. I was always so proud of myself because I always check to see where the fresh produce comes from I never thought that a FL corporation would have their store brand or something produced so far away and apparently some of the big brands do it too.
    I used to buy frozen because it's cheaper and more convenient but not anymore. I don't eat fish anymore unless I go to the fish market that I KNOW gets it fresh off the boats and now I go the local green grocer for my locally grown produce .
  • Thanks for the article.
  • Thanks for an informative article.
  • Puzzled through the first sentence a moment, because why is buying organic CA strawberries not local? Oh right, I live in CA, the writer doesn't. Heh.
  • An addendum to the article: another alternative is to start (or patronize) a food co-op, a process I'm involved with here in the NW suburbs of Illinois. Close to 500 people have shown an interest, & we are moving forward to start a store-front co-op somewhere in McHenry County by May of 2015.
  • GFIKE1566
    I produce local beef; raise and sell it without added hormones or antibiotics. It costs more to raise it that way. I advertise in local papers, "family farm raised, corn-fed beef." I have a complete satisfaction guarantee. If you eat a little, and don't like it, I'll buy back the unused portion. Plus, I deliver it to your house for no extra charge. I sell only by the quarter, so you're buying a bundle of steaks, roasts, and ground beef. My market allows me little, if any profit; that is, people will not pay me what it costs me to raise it. It is a losing proposition this year for sure. We have sold several head over the past three years (7 or 8 head), and we get rave reviews, and some of them are repeat customers. But the cost is always a concern with our customers. I have had to lower my prices by 20% in order to move it, and I'm losing money on the product. So, if you want to buy locally raised, organic or natural produce or meat, you had better expect to pay more for it, even if it's not being transported very far.. Many people aren't willing to do that.
    It would be good to get local vegetables in January, but our climate does not allow it. You cannot grow many vegetables in three inches of snow. The only vegetables that people saw 100 years ago, were the ones that could be stored for a long time - such as onions, beets, carrots, potatoes. Good luck with that.

About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.