Summer is here and with it, fresh produce! Seasonal and local eating might be buzzwords, but well worth the hype. Eating local food is a great way to increase the nutrient density of your diet, support sustainable agriculture, and connect with your farmers. Too good to be true? Keep reading to find out!
Most of the produce found in your local grocery store is not locally grown. For example, strawberries and blueberries are usually from California, oranges mainly come from southern states like Florida, apples usually come from Washington, and so on. This means that farmers across America are picking their produce prematurely, before its peak. They fulfill supply and demand, feeding both the consumer and their profit.
When produce is harvested before its peak, the consumer gets less bang for their buck from a nutrition, flavor, and quality standpoint. Premature harvest doesn’t allow for crops to develop their full phytonutrient content, flavor profile, or nutrient bioavailability. This means fruits and vegetables that were harvested weeks prior to their peak (like from the grocery store) will not have the same nutrient profile as foods harvested at their peak (like from the farmers’ market).
Buying local also often provides the additional benefit of eating in season. Grocery stores often have the same type of produce all year round, giving consumers consistency and a wide range of options to choose from. While this is wonderful and something I am so grateful we have access to, a bulk of this is out of season and picked prematurely.
Produce grown in its preferred environment will both taste better and have the most robust nutrient profile. You may have even noticed this yourself! You know how a fresh picked, juicy strawberry in the summer is so much more flavorful than what you find at the grocery store in the winter? This is a perfect example!
Food transportation (car, semi-truck, airplane, etc.) is a huge contributor to carbon dioxide production. This biogas impacts the integrity of our earth’s ozone layer and climate change. Buying foods grown closer to home with a shorter transit time is a great way to support a more earth-friendly food system and reduce your carbon footprint.
It’s easy to feel anxious or hopeless about the environment, but this is a great way to do your part.
Shopping local is also a great opportunity to get to know your farmers and vote with your dollar. Money talks, baby! When you buy locally, you support farming practices that are invaluable to our food system. Removing the middle man can also make buying directly from your farmer a more cost-effective option.
This is also an excellent opportunity to learn about how your food is grown. Understanding the process from seed to harvest allows you to connect with your food and develop a new appreciation for the whole farm-to-table process.
Farmers’ Markets, CSAs, food co-ops, and growing your own food are the easiest ways to eat locally. Most communities have weekly farmers’ markets. This could be a good place to start!
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs connect farmers and consumers by allowing the consumer to subscribe to a regular harvest of a local farm. Cool, right?! These programs also provide the farmers financial stability throughout the year, supporting not only the growth of local produce but your community as a whole. CSA farmers often collaborate with other nearby farmers (dairy ranchers, meat, etc.) to offer their consumers a unique variety of whole foods.
Many communities will also have local food co-ops which are a great way to get involved in your community and accessible prices for great quality food. You can find farmers’ markets, CSAs, and co-ops near you on the USDA Local Food Directory website.
Growing your own food is another wonderful way to eat both locally and seasonally while connecting with your food. I think it’s safe to say that is just about as local as it gets! Tomatoes and cucumbers are typically easy starter plants to grow on your own. You can find kits with everything you need at a local garden center or even on Amazon. If you don’t have a yard or porch space, start with some window herbs! Tending to the plants can be a meditative hobby but also brings new respect and understanding for where our food comes from.
It’s not always ideal or realistic to shop at a farmers’ market year-round. That’s okay! Next time you find yourself in the grocery store, take an extra second to read where the produce was grown. Opt for foods grown in your state or neighboring states when you can.
Shop naked! To further reduce single-use plastic consumption, try choosing items that don’t require packaging. These will often be whole foods like avocados, bananas, nuts, or oats from the bulk section. You can also bring reusable produce bags, bulk containers, and reusable shopping bags!