Nutrition Articles

4 Good Reasons to Buy Local Food

The Benefits of Eating Locally Grown Produce

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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 www.LocalHarvest.org.

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 www.EatWild.com, 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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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.

Member Comments

  • 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 . - 2/2/2014 4:54:11 PM
  • Thanks for the article. - 12/10/2013 10:05:50 AM
  • Thanks for an informative article. - 11/29/2013 6:35:10 AM
  • 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. - 11/26/2013 7:23:31 PM
  • 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. - 11/26/2013 5:12:17 PM
  • 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. - 11/26/2013 4:11:41 PM
  • YOLANDAD5
    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. - 11/26/2013 8:36:13 AM
  • CALLA2056
    Comments begin in April of 2010 so this article is definitely recycled. Still timely perhaps but just saying. Doing a search also offers several articles on SP telling us what to buy organic. And on my sidebar, I see a recipe for a pear and spinach salad and on November 26th. I live in Indiana, so while I could possibly still find locally grown spinach, pears? Not so much. They would be in cold storage somewhere and probably not here. So there is some hypocrisy going on, and not just on SP.

    I walk the tightrope of healthy foods/environment
    . My meats are local, humanely raised and no GMO feeds. But we seldom just have meat, starch, vegetable, meats are used in stews and the like. Unfortunately, it is difficult here to find organic fruits/veggies any time of the year, locally grown that is. Even at the farmers' markets, if one asks, foods are not organic or one pays up to 2.00 per pound extra just to get "pesticide free" (and from the Amish no less).

    But back to my earlier point and that is we see recipes often daily that we want to try, ingredients for it are not necessarily local nor seasonal. And this is everywhere. SP, Clean Eating, Living Well, just a few. The challenges of offering new and healthy dinners vs local or shipped foods is well entrenched in our lifestyles. Seems like we can not win for losing.

    - 11/26/2013 7:38:49 AM
  • That's just great if you live in a climate that you grow things in, I live in the high dry desert some years good, some not so much, in a good year you get about4 months before the first hard freeze. That is if a late freeze did not kill all your plants and you have to replant in the middle of June. Some areas are just hard to grow a good variety vegies and forget about fruit the years you get fruit are few and far between. - 9/29/2013 11:04:51 AM
  • This would be good if the produce at the Farmer's Market were actually grown locally. The vendors at the Farmer's Market here are just that---vendors. They go to a warehouse and buy produce by the case then resell it as home grown at an outrageous price. If I can buy produce directly from an honest to goodness gardener then I will but I buy very little at the so called Farmer's Market. - 9/28/2013 2:35:24 PM
  • I am so glad this was a topic today. We have decided to join a local CSA or co-op where our veggies plus watermelons, cantaloupes, and tomatos are only grown about 12 miles from us. it is a 5-7lb box that we get weekly, and they also include recipes on how to prepare the veggies. I am also excited because they have a herb garden where we have free access to over 30 different herbs!!! I am hoping to get enough herbs that I will be able to dry them out and store them for winter, as well as fresh use=) The other bonus is we get 30lbs of canning tomatos, 3 pumpkins, and a punch card for an extra 15 punds of veggies!!!!! I am so excited to have fresh veggies, I can't wait!!! The bons is it only costs $300 for our family size, for 18 weeks which equals $17 per week, less than I would spend at the store or famer's market. Plus all of it is grown organiclly. We also get 30% off their store, where they are bringing in organic/free range beef, and eggs - 4/30/2013 10:59:17 AM
  • AKIRA99, I'm pretty sure the point of bringing up the organic in the first paragraph was that many people buy organic thinking they're getting more nutritious foods, but if those foods have been shipped 2,000 miles or more to get to them, then many of the nutrients are already gone.

    Frozen foods do not have this problem, organic or not, because they are frozen very soon after picking and do not lose nutrients in shipment (though the shipment itself still burns the fossil fuels).

    Whether you buy organic or conventional, this article is merely saying it's always better to try to buy local over imported. If you live in an area where this is simply not a viable option due to lack of local produce, then sure, buy your organic from 2,000 miles away. This is just a generic article for those who do live in areas with local agriculture they can take advantage of. - 4/29/2013 6:57:07 PM
  • While I agree with the "shop local" sentiment of the article, I'm a little confused about why the first paragraph cited organic products specifically as having to be shipped. If I go to my supermarket, most of the fresh veggetables (and canned and frozen....) are shipped, regardless of if it's an organic product or not. So could the author explain why she made that distinction? - 4/29/2013 3:23:42 PM
  • My husband and I joined a CSA (community suppoted agriculture) last year. Our share of vegetables lasted all week. The benefit is that we learned to cook and eat vegetables that we never tried before. We ate more vegetables because we didn't want them to go to waste. Compared to food at the grocery the price seemed high but compared with other organic foods the price was very reasonable. - 4/29/2013 1:44:03 PM
  • Thank you for this article. I do try and buy fresh produce from the farmers market when they are open and if the orices are not too high Cannot afford to buy organic in the supermarket though. And the tomatoes and berries do not taste the same in the stores as they do when freshly picked but i cannot get around to places to pick my own and cannot always afford to buy fresh berries; they are higher than the tomatoes. - 4/29/2013 11:16:47 AM