When you pause and think about how many hands have had to handle asparagus coming from a continent away – it can get your head spinning. Between the farm it was raised on, who or what harvested it, who cleaned it, who or what (possibly) added preservatives to coat it, so it could make the long journey north to again be handled in a distribution centre. Then, someone to move it onto the Costco floor – well, you can see that it’s come a long way from its humble beginnings as a seed in some distant place.
Eating locally grown food not only shortens this process, but also provides a host of benefits to you from a nutritional and freshness perspective, as well as from an environmental and economic standpoint. The move towards eating local has garnered its own name amongst the many labels given to eaters – carnivores, omnivores, vegans, pescatarians – and now locavores. Despite this moniker, this notion of eating locally produced food is more conceptual than strictly defined. For many, the concept centers around purchasing food within one’s own community, then moving out by region, province, country and so on.
So why eat food produced closer to home?
Help the Environment
Eating locally sourced food shortens the entire distribution chain cutting down on pollution and carbon emissions that come with food making long trips around the globe. Without the need to transport or ship produce, there is also less need for fancy packaging to preserve the freshly picked crops and this also reduces unnecessary waste. Often when you visit a farmer’s market or fruit stand, the items are just displayed rather than individually wrapped and easy to toss into a reusable bag to carry the items home. Again, this equates to less packaging which keeps garbage out of our landfills.
Choosing to buy locally sourced foods also ensures that farmlands in your area, stay farmland rather than the land being developed for a mega mall or movie theatre. It encourages local farmers to diversify their crop variety and this, in turn, helps to improve the nutrient quality and density of the soil in which food is grown. Many sustainable farming practices help to boost biodiversity, protect pollinators, and maintain green spaces to deliver totally delicious food.
Food is just tastier when it’s fresh. A perfectly ripened peach, a sweet and succulent strawberry at its prime, a carrot just pulled from the ground has a completely different taste versus the same thing harvested months in advance to be shipped to a store while it ripens on its route. There is nothing more disheartening than smelling a gorgeous red strawberry, only to bite into it and find that there’s no taste there, just texture. With locally sourced produce, you know that what is being presented at your farmer’s market was likely picked within the last 24-48 hours. This means the fruits or veggies were harvested at their prime ripeness and this often results in sweeter, juicer and tastier foods.
Because local food has a shorter time between harvest to your plate, it is less likely that the nutrient value has decreased. As soon as food is harvested, its nutrient content begins to deteriorate particularly vitamins C, E, A and some B. Food imported from far-away places and countries is often older, has traveled and sits in a distribution centre before it gets to your store. Researchers have examined how the antioxidant content of some produce declines during storage. This does not mean that fruits and vegetables that are non-local or frozen are devoid of nutrients! We’re just saying that if you can purchase locally grown options, then you may get the biggest nutritional bang for your buck – by choosing that which was grown closer to home.
By eating locally, it also exposes you to the concept of eating seasonally. Locally grown food options change with the seasons with berries and veggies in abundance during the summer months and more root vegetables coming to maturation when the weather cools and its time to hunker down. By choosing to eat locally and thus seasonally, you expose your body to an array of different nutrient sources – rather than eating the same thing all the time. Feeding your microbiome a variety of foods ensures good bacterial diversity and a healthier gut results in increased immunity, improved mood, quality sleep and effective digestion.
Support Your Local Economy
The money spent within your community supporting local farmers and growers often recirculates within the local economy. This means jobs for community members and money being reinvested within businesses and services that aid the community.
Be More Mindful
Getting to know who grows your food is such a gift. Purchasing from farmers or those who can teach you about the pickling process or fermentation process of the food that you are sampling, creates a deeper appreciation for what you consume. When you know where your food comes from, who it comes from, and the road it took to get on your plate, you’re much more likely to be mindful of how wonderful it is to be tasting it and nourishing yourself.
Whether you choose to start a garden of your own, shop at the farmers market, or actively look at where your food is from when you shop at the grocery store, eating locally has a ton of benefits for your health, the health of the planet and also the health of your community.
Bouzari A, Holstege D, Barrett DM. Vitamin retention in eight fruits and vegetables: a comparison of refrigerated and frozen storage. J Agric Food Chem. 2015 Jan 28;63(3):957-62. doi: 10.1021/jf5058793. Epub 2015 Jan 13. PMID: 25526594.
Gharehbeglou P, Jafari SM. Antioxidant Components of Brassica Vegetables Including Turnip and the Influence of Processing and Storage on their Anti-oxidative Properties. Curr Med Chem. 2019;26(24):4559-4572. doi: 10.2174/0929867325666181115111040. PMID: 30430937.