Benefits of Buying Local Food + Resources
By Leah Kleinschrodt, MS, RD, LD
May 22, 2018
Did you realize that the average carrot chopped up in your salad bowl plate likely traveled over 1,800 miles before it landed in your refrigerator?1 I found that statistic astounding and alarming. Considering I’m “eating for two” as I prepare to welcome a baby later this summer, I’m even more concerned about the quality of foods I eat. While I appreciate a steady stream of produce regardless of the season (hello delicious banana in Minnesota winter!), it typically comes at the cost of compromised food quality, not to mention a lack of support for local farmers. Many of my nutrition counseling clients are also concerned about that food quality for different reasons. Some want to maximize the nutrients they are getting from their foods so they can heal their joints, manage their depression, or keep their bones in tip-top shape. Others may have grown up on a farm and want to re-establish that long-lost connection. And still others may just notice that the strawberries grown at the farm down the road taste fresher than the strawberries from the grocery store.
But what does “local” or “locally-grown” really mean? Local usually means that the food has been grown within 100 miles of where it is purchased. Other definitions of local food may take into consideration how many hands food passes through from farm to table, or places with similar environmental conditions (similar soil, climate, etc.).2
So that’s what it is, but what is it that makes local food so great, and why do we prioritize it?
Why Locally-Grown Food Is Important
- Locally-grown produce is fresher, tastes better, and has more nutrients – local foods are typically picked at peak freshness the day of or the day before they appear at a farmer’s market, and travel fewer miles from farm to market meaning the food gets to you quicker with more nutrients intact.
- Choosing local food forces you to eat seasonally, and therefore, with more variety throughout the year. Here in Minnesota, for example, strawberries are harvested around May and June, while a variety of squash are available in the fall.
- Foods from local growers may contain less (or no) pesticides.3 Farmers have to apply and pay a fee to become certified organic by the USDA.4 This means some small-scale farmers use organic methods but aren’t certified because they simply aren’t big enough to afford the certification fees. Even if they aren’t organic, many small farmers tend to use fewer chemicals than large, industrialized farms.
- Local foods are better for the environment due to less transportation, less packaging and less artificial preservation methods; all of that adds up to a much smaller carbon footprint. The average piece of produce in the U.S. travels 1,500 miles, compared to 100 miles for local food as previously mentioned, according to researcher Rich Pirog at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.3 Plus, well-managed farms provide ecosystem services: they conserve fertile soil, protect water sources, and sequester carbon from the atmosphere.
- The fewer hands that touch the food, the reduced likelihood of contamination and better food safety.
- Money spent locally stays local! Since the food moves through fewer people, organizations and markets, more of the money you spend ends up in the pockets of those raising and growing the foods.
- Having pride in supporting local farmers and the economy creates a feeling of community. You can meet the farmers and producers in person (put a face to the name!) and also potentially visit their farms. Many farms host a public visiting day or a special market day on site as a way to show customer appreciation.
Where to Find Local Foods in Your Area
- Farmer’s markets
- CSA (community supported agriculture) programs
- Local co-op
- Local orchards, nurseries or meat markets
- Directories of local foods by state or region
- USDA Local Foods Directory
- Check your state’s Department of Agriculture website
- Eatwild’s Directory of Pasture-Based Farms and Ranches
If you’re local, here are some of our favorite Minnesota local food resources.
- Minnesota Grown Directory from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture
- Check local publications (ex. – city newsletter, local newspaper) for local advertising or farmer’s market announcements.
- Visit a local co-op and speak with a member services representative or check out the postings on their announcement or community boards.
- Check with your employer or wellness program about a CSA program or other benefits
- Midtown Global Market, Minneapolis
- Ferndale Market, Cannon Falls
- Thousand Hills Beef Farm
- Good Acre Food Hub