We can get really overwhelmed with all of the health information that is out there! It can be so difficult to sift through what’s real and what’s the latest trend and it seems like it’s constantly changing! The one thing almost everyone agrees on is that we should all be eating more plants. If you’ve been reading my content or had any interaction with me you’ve already heard me say this! The most common questions I get though are ‘what plants should I be eating’ and ‘do they NEED to be organic!’ The simplest answer to this is, keep it local! If you eat predominantly local produce you are likely to be eating the right plants at the right time! Here’s why local produce is best!
What is Local Produce?
There isn’t an official definition of “local” produce but it is widely accepted that local produce is grown and harvested within 100 miles of where it’s being sold. You should however confirm this with your seller. Anyone selling produce that is advertised as local should be able to tell you where it’s grown. And if you are unfamiliar with the area they should be able to tell you how far away the farm is. They should also be able to tell you when the produce was picked / harvested. That is very important for nutritional purposes! But nutrition isn’t the only reason to choose local! You should also consider the environmental and community benefits.
First of all let’s talk about the actual growing and harvesting of the plants! Small local farmers have different farming practices than large and industrial farms. This makes an enormous difference to the nutritional value of the produce. Yes, I’m actually saying that locally grown produce is more healthy! And that’s a scientific fact!
Small farmers are more likely to be attentive to soil quality. They know that their entire lively hood depends on it and there is no quick fix. It is also easier to maintain the soil quality of a smaller piece of land. For example no-till methods (which prevent erosion) are more easily implemented. Small farmers also make planting decisions and chemical treatment choices that drastically effect the quality of the soil.
Heirloom seed use is more common in local farming. Heirlooms seeds have not been cross pollinated with other plants. This means that they will produce plants that are true to type and that the farmer can harvest seeds for use in next year’s planting.
Produce grown from heirloom seeds has an exceptional and distinct taste and are more nutritious. Farmers specifically choose seeds from their best plants. The seed lineage is often decades or even generations old! Sometimes the farmers can even tell you the story of where the seeds originally came from!
To stay in business small local farmers need to have crops to sell throughout all growing seasons. This means that they rotate their crops. Rotating crops is extremely important to soil quality and biodiversity! It is also important to you, the consumer. It ensures the availability of a wide variety of seasonal produce which is necessary for optimal health.
Plants have a symbiotic relationship with the soil. The leach nutrients from it but they also help the soil develop and keep it from eroding. Keeping crops on the soil keeps the soil healthy. Planting a variety of things in the same soil helps prevent the soil from becoming barren of some nutrients and overly abundant in others.
We all know about animal extinction and most of us are very concerned about it. But the lack in biodiversity in plants and soil microorganisms that is being caused by industrial farming is a very real concern that could lead to a serious food shortage. There was a more than 75% decrease in agricultural genetic diversity in the 20th century. That’s a seriously BIG deal! Because smaller farms grow a wider variety of plants, rotate their crops and use heirloom seed they are protecting diversity. Long term this is imperative to our food supply!
I know that we all want our produce when we want it and that’s ok. But the average American consumes only 5 varieties of fruits and veggies a week which just isn’t enough. Local produce is seasonal. If you consistently buy local you’ll be forced to try something new and broaden your palette.
In addition, local, in season produce is more nutrient dense. For example in season local broccoli has 2x as much vitamin C as out of season imported broccoli. And local vine ripened blackberries have 4x more health promoting pigments then their imported counterparts!
Pesticides & Other Chemicals
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 10 years you’ve probably heard of Round Up. And you might have heard some discussion surrounding Round-up and / or GMO’s. There’s a high likelihood that you’re confused about whether you need to be eating all organic all of the time. And you might be concerned about how you’ll afford that.
Small local farms is the best way around eating 100% certified organic and spending an arm and a leg doing it. Most small farmers use organic and sustainable farming practices but can’t afford to get certified. So, you are getting better quality organic produce without the mark up.
This is one of the biggest factors in the nutritional value of local produce! Local produce is left to ripen on the vine because it doesn’t have a long journey before reaching the consumer. It is picked at it’s prime and usually purchased within 24 hours. Produce starts to lose it’s nutritional value within 24 hours of harvest. This doesn’t mean that you don’t need to bother with produce picked more than 24 hrs ago and you should just give up on eating it. This simply means that fresh is best and freshest is found locally.
Even after that window of greatest nutritional value local produce is better for you. Imported produce is often picked weeks before it’s ripe, shipped and sprayed with chemicals to cause it to ripen. For this reason produce you bought at the farmers market last weekend will always be nutritionally superior to imported produce.
Transport & Sell
The average distance produce travels to reach the consumer is 1,500 miles! Seriously, NO JOKE! That seems silly when there’s probably a road stand or farmers market within 30 miles of your home!
When produce is shipped it has to be sprayed with additional chemicals to keep it preserved after ripening. It is exposed to a variety of gasses, waxes and chemicals to keep it from spoiling during long distance transport. It is also exposed to artificial light, temperature changes and poor air quality. All of this drastically impacts the nutritional value.
There are several tremendous considerations regarding the environment and farming practices. Local small farms have significantly less environmental impact than large industrial farms for several reasons.
Choosing local over industrial farms helps to honor and preserve the land. Soil destruction and erosion are environmentally damaging and potentially irreversible.
Industrial farming practices are destroying biodiversity in the soil and food supply. Once the soil is destroyed we will be unable to continue to grow food there. Supporting local and regenerative farms is imperative!
Mono vs Diverse Farming
Mono farming means the planing of one crop. Typically over and over and over again on the same land! This strips the soil of it’s nutrients and creates barren land. It also makes the food less nutrient dense.
Diverse farming regenerates the land. This is done by mixing and rotating crops and including large and small grazing animals in farming. This preserves the land and allows it to be farmed in this way for generations to come. Also, due to the fact that this type of farming doesn’t require heavy machinery for tilling it helps to preserve natural habitats for some wildlife.
Pesticides and Other Chemicals
The heavy duty chemicals being used in industrial farming are creating mass destruction. Not only of the soil, but also of our water ways, including the ocean. The run off from industrial farms into our water systems is dangerous to human health and wildlife. It is also devastating to the earth. There is currently a dead zone in the Atlantic ocean the size of Kentucky that is believed to be caused by the run off from industrial farming in middle America. To be clear, EVERY living thing in the ocean in that area is dead. To be sure, that is a crisis!
Buying local means you aren’t supporting these destructive farming practices!
So remember when I said above that the average piece of produce travels 1,500 miles to get to the consumer? Well, that’s a lot of CO2 emissions! That’s a lot of unnecessary waste! Now before you get started about jobs, let me just point out that there is a shortage of truck drivers in America right now. And there are many things that we need transported. Cutting back on transporting food could benefit several industries and the environment! It’s a WIN – WIN!!!
This is probably one of my favorite things about buying local produce! Being part of a community is so beneficial to our health that it is in the top 5 of life and health span predictors! Connecting to other like minded individuals by joining a CSA or shopping at a farmer’s market is priceless. Spending time outdoors and communing with nature and the land has countless benefits as well. Buying local produce is just flat out good for your soul!
Buying local means connecting not only to your local market but also to your farmer and your food. When you know where your food comes from you begin to think of it differently. You have a deeper sense of gratitude toward it.
Knowing your farmer means that you can ask them questions about their farming practices and you can choose to support farmers who’s values you believe in. You are directly connected to those who planted and grew the seed that is nourishing your family!
If you buy local the money you spend stays in your local economy. When you support your local farmer they are likely to have the means to support other local businesses or to hire more workers. Your money stays in your community!
When we support local farming we actually help to create a demand for it. This means more local farms and urban gardens are needed to meet the growing demands. Local farms and urban gardens provide much needed green spaces. They also often provide sources of produce in areas that were formerly food deserts!
Where to Find Local Produce
It is very likely that you can find a local produce vendor of some sort within 15 miles of your home! You can look for CSAs, Farmer’s Markets, Food Co-Ops or even road side stands! The best place to find these in your area is at Localharvest.org.
For more information about all of these different types of markets and suppliers check out my post Real Ways to Eat Healthy on a Tight Budget. This post will help you choose what local produce source is best for you and your family.
I know, I know… You’re probably wondering what to do in the off season! I live in Michigan as you all know and it isn’t lost on me that this post is coming out in August! I don’t want to have to say the “W” word but we all know it’s coming! That isn’t even about seasonal produce it’s about nothing growing so what’s a girl to do?
Green Houses & Hoop Houses
Despite that fact that some climates and seasons don’t lend themselves to farming there are other options. You can consider getting your produce from farmers who utilize green houses and hoop houses. These can be very effective at the beginning and end of the cold season.
You can also check with your local grocer (usually big chains can’t help with this), natural food store or community co-op to see if they have a local produce provider. These types of markets are more likely to have access to local produce and can be great resources.
Preparing For Off-Season
Consider going the old fashioned route and buy extra produce throughout growing season and preserve it for later. Canning and jarring are both common methods. But, freezing locks in freshness and dehydrating can be fun and delicious!
Taking this process one step at a time, this might be something you want to learn over the winter and start doing next spring. I love to taking on a new challenge to keep me busy through the winter months so if I figure it out I’ll post about it!
Yes! I eat imports. Knowing where my food is coming from is important to me. And I enjoy going to the farmers market but regardless of the season sometimes it just isn’t feasible. When I do by from the grocery store, I try to stick with organic produce (especially the dirty dozen). I take my own produce bags and I make sure to get a huge variety. I also make sure that I have a meal plan so that I don’t over buy and end up with waste. There are some things that I just can’t get local like citrus fruits and avocados (I eat these almost daily). It is perfectly ok to supplement just eat local as much as you can!
Buying frozen can be an inexpensive and nutritious option. Frozen vegetables are typically harvested at the peak of ripeness and flash frozen within 24 hours. This preserves their nutritional value. A little research will help you find trusted brands with farming practices you support and believe in!
Fresh Local Produce is Best!
Despite the confusion regarding diet and nutrition. Despite the organic hype and the low carb trend. Local fresh produce is best for your health! There are even tons of low carb plants you can be enjoying. There is no need to feel overwhelmed regarding what’s best for your body, your community or the environment! Fresh, local produce is always best!!!
What’s your favorite thing to buy at the farmers market? Do you have any great tips to share with us regarding cooking in season produce?
Share with a friend… spread the word that local is best for their health and for the planet!