Seven good reasons to buy local food

Better still to grow your own in your own garden, on an allotment or a community garden

by Michael Smith

If you have to buy and even if you grow you cannot grow everything then buy local.

Why buy local?

1. Locally grown food tastes better.

Food grown in your own community is usually picked within the past day or two. It's crisp, sweet, and loaded with flavor. Produce flown or trucked in from elsewhere, whether from Holland or Germany, Poland or Kenya, as often in the case of French Beans in the UK, is, quite understandably, much older.

Several studies have shown that the average distance food travels from farm to plate is 1,500 miles. In a week long delay from harvest to dinner plate, sugars turn to starches, plant cells shrink, and produce loses its vitality.

Buying and consuming locally grown food also means that you eat with the seasons, as we are meant to eat and work.

While it is extremely nice to have fresh green beans in the middle of winter or lettuce or this or that other vegetable, when we consider the distance that those will have travelled and then things are in a different perspective straight away.

2. Local produce is better for you.

Studies have shown that fresh produce loses nutrients quickly. Locally grown food, purchased soon after harvest, retains its nutrients.

Hence also the advice to grow your own if you at all can. That way the food miles are not miles but yards rather and you can literally go out and pick your dinner just minutes before preparing it.

3. Local food preserves genetic diversity.

In the modern industrial agricultural system, varieties are chosen for their ability to ripen simultaneously and withstand harvesting equipment; for a tough skin that can survive packing and shipping; and for an ability to have a long shelf life in the store. Only a handful of hybrid varieties of each fruit and vegetable meet those rigorous demands, so there is little genetic diversity in the plants grown.

Local farms, in contrast, grow a huge number of varieties to provide a long season of harvest, an array of eye-catching colors, and the best flavors. Many varieties are heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation, because they taste good.

These old varieties contain genetic material from hundreds or even thousands of years of human selection; they may someday provide the genes needed to create varieties that will thrive in a changing climate. Local food preserves genetic diversity.

If you grow your own you can, always, let some go to seed and have, that way, your own seed and seed bank.

4. Local food is GMO-free.

Although biotechnology companies have been trying to commercialize genetically modified fruits and vegetables, they are currently licensing them only to large factory-style farms. Local farmers don't have access to genetically modified seed, and most of them wouldn't use it even if they could. Costs more than likely would be one of the reasons and also they know that most of such plants will not produce viable seeds.

A June 2001 survey by ABC News showed that 93% of Americans want labels on genetically modified food – most in order so that they can avoid it. The same, so I understand, if true in the UK and elsewhere in the EU, such as Germany and the Netherlands.

If you are opposed to eating bio-engineered food, you can rest assured that locally grown produce from small farms was bred the old-fashioned way, as nature intended.

If you grow your own then you also know what's been sprayed on the crops if anything.

5. Local food preserves open space.

As the value of direct-marketed fruits and vegetables increases, selling farmland for development becomes less likely. You have probably enjoyed driving out into the country and appreciated the lush fields of crops, the meadows full of wildflowers, the picturesque barns and farms. That landscape will survive only as long as farms are financially viable. When you buy locally grown food, you are doing something proactive about preserving the agricultural landscape.

6. Local food supports a clean environment and benefits wildlife.

A well-managed family farm is a place where the resources of fertile soil and clean water are valued. Good stewards of the land grow cover crops to prevent erosion and replace nutrients used by their crops. Cover crops also capture carbon emissions and help combat global warming. According to some estimates, farmers who practice conservation tillage could sequester 12-14% of the carbon emitted by vehicles and industry. In addition, the habitat of a farm - the patchwork of fields, meadows, woods, ponds, and buildings - is the perfect environment for the many species of wildlife including owls, hawks, blue herons, bats, and rabbits, and foxes.

7. Local food is about the future.

By supporting local farmers today, you can help ensure that there will be farms in your community tomorrow so that future generations will have access to nourishing, flavorful, and abundant food.

© M Smith (Veshengro), January 2009