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Ten Reasons to Buy Local Food

locally grown foodBrenton Johnson, an organic farmer and owner of Johnson’s Backyard Garden, came up with this list of top 10 reasons to buy local food, based on his philosophy to live in harmony with the land.

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 is much older. Several studies have shown that the average distance food travels from farm to plate is 1,500 miles.

2. Local produce is better for you. Fresh produce loses nutrients quickly. Locally grown food, purchased soon after harvest, retains its nutrients.

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. Only a handful of varieties of fruits and vegetables 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.

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.

5. Local food supports local farm families. With fewer than 1 million Americans now listing farming as their primary occupation, farmers are a vanishing breed. Local farmers who sell direct to consumers cut out the middle man and get full retail price for their crops.

6. Local food builds a stronger community. When you buy direct from the farmer, you are re-establishing a time-honored connection between the eater and the grower.

7. Local food preserves open space. As the value of direct-marketed fruits and vegetables increases, selling farmland for development becomes less likely. The rural landscape will survive only as long as farms are financially viable.

8. Local food helps to keep your taxes in check. Farms contribute more in taxes than they require in services, whereas suburban development costs more than it generates in taxes.

9. 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.

10. 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.
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
After declining for more than a century, the number of U.S. small farms has increased 20 percent in the past six years. This is in large part a result of the growing demand for locally grown foods, which is slowly but surely shaping the business of food in the United States.

An interesting study, published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, recently hit this point home. After surveying nearly 500 people, they found food shoppers were willing to pay more for locally grown food, and those shopping at farmers’ markets were willing to spend the most for food grown close to home. The top reasons people gave for wanting locally grown food?

• Better food quality
• Better taste
• Freshness

For another sign of the times, consider that even Wal-Mart plans to spend $400 million this year on locally grown produce, making it the largest player in that market.

And while most school cafeterias are still stuck in the pizza and hot dog rut, some avant-garde school systems are bringing locally grown foods to school children. Maryland, for instance, has started a new Farm to School program to encourage kids to eat local produce.

This is a clear sign of what happens when people start demanding changes for the better: when enough attitudes shift, the fabric of society follows.

What to Know When Shopping for Locally Grown Food

Most people opt for locally grown food because of the superior quality of the food. However, buying local is not always a guarantee that you’re getting the highest quality food available. Why not?

The most glaring example is that food grown locally is not always organic. Though it may be grown just down the road, and sold at your local farmer’s market or vegetable stand, it may still be doused in pesticides, chemical fertilizers and tended to by workers who are paid unfair wages.

At the same time, the organic certification process established by the federal government is expensive, and some small farmers cannot afford it. This means that some locally grown foods are grown according to organic standards but are not “certified organic.”

The only way to know for sure is to confirm it with the farmer.

So, please understand that farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture programs are some of the best ways to purchase your food, but you need to do a little digging to make sure your food is safe -- even if it’s locally grown.

The National Resources Defence Council (NDRC) also offers a great tool on their website that helps you determine what fruits and vegetables are in season in your state.

Eight Signs of High-Quality Food

In your search for healthy food to feed your family, here is what you need to look for (whether you’re at the grocery store or farmers’ market):

1. Grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers (organic foods fit this description, but so do some non-organic foods)

2. Not genetically modified

3. Contains no added growth hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs

4. Does not contain artificial anything, nor any preservatives

5. Fresh (if you have to choose between wilted organic produce or fresh conventional produce, the latter may be the better option)

6. Did not come from a factory farm

7. Grown with the laws of nature in mind (meaning animals are fed their native diets, not a mix of grains and animal byproducts, and have free-range access to the outdoors)

8. Grown in a sustainable way (using minimal amounts of water, protecting the soil from burnout, and turning animal wastes into natural fertilizers instead of environmental pollutants)

Foods that meet these standards will almost always be a wise choice.

Getting Into the Local-Food Lifestyle

Searching for in-season foods grown by a farmer you can meet personally is more than just grocery shopping; it’s a lifestyle. As you discover more alternative food networks in your area -- things like farmers’ markets, food coops, and community-supported agriculture -- you’ll begin to feel a connection to your community that you likely never felt before.

Supporting the small farmers who supply food in your area is actually a very natural part of society that has been squelched by big business. Yet more and more people are returning to their roots and opting for a simpler, more wholesome route to get their food.

If eating locally is new to you, rest assured that you can find a source near you, regardless of whether you’re in a remote or rural area or a big city. You can peruse this list of sustainable agriculture groups around the United States.

If you can’t find a local food resource from the link above, you can also track down sources by:

• Asking workers in your local health food store
• Searching online for local farms in your area
• Posting your request here on VitalVotes (many of our members are well-connected with local-food scenes around the world)

+ Sources and References