Eating locally grown organic foods is one of the smartest health moves you can make and comes with a bounty of benefits, from fresher foods to saving both money and the environment.
One 2007 study from the University of Alberta, Canada, determined that the transportation alone of organic produce actually causes an environmental impact large enough to cancel out its benefits. In the U.S., transportation emissions account for about 11 percent of the food system’s carbon footprint.
If you look, you’ll find that most of the organic fruit and vegetables in your local grocery store come from much farther away than your conventional produce. Organic mangoes, for example, are frequently shipped from Ecuador and Peru, whereas conventional mangoes tend to come from Mexico. Fresh produce in most regions of the U.S. travel between 1,500 to 2,000 miles on the road! That’s even higher than processed foods that travel an average of 1,346 miles.
Eating a local diet would eliminate a substantial amount of the carbon footprint associated with food transportation.
Of course, this contradicts the core philosophy behind organic foods, which is to grow food in a sustainable, healthy and earth-friendly manner. So the idea that organic produce is always better for the environment and your health does not always hold true, especially if your organic produce is being shipped from overseas.
This fact has led to the rise of the “locavore,” with buying local rapidly becoming the new organic, since far less fuel is wasted in transporting the food to you. And, even more importantly, it is nearly always fresher, which means it is also healthier for you.
Naturally, your absolute best option is to keep looking for in-season, organic varieties that are grown locally. However, freshness is also important when it comes to nutritional value, so if your only options are either limp organic produce or fresh, crisp conventionally-grown produce; you’re likely better off buying the conventional variety simply because of its freshness.
Shopping for locally-grown, fresh foods is usually a snap during growing season, no matter where you live. The winter months can be trickier, but it’s still not impossible. It’s just a matter of knowing where to look.
How to Find Locally-Grown Food During the Winter
In winter months, what you’ll be eating depends on where you live. The National Resources Defence Council (NDRC) offers a great tool on their website that helps you determine what fruits and vegetables are in season in your state.
In areas where growing season lasts year round, being a locavore is a piece of cake, and your options will naturally be more plentiful. But in more northern areas, adjusting what you eat to what’s in season becomes an inescapable fact if you’re going to eat locally-grown foods.
Here are your best options:
1. If you’re lucky enough to have a local farmers market, that’s the way to go. Fortunately, farmer’s markets have grown tremendously in popularity. In 1970 there were 340 farmer’s markets in the U.S. By 2006 there were more than 4,600 such markets.
For a listing of national farmer’s markets, see this link.
Another great web site is www.localharvest.org. There you can find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
2. Another good route for finding local food is to subscribe to a community supported agriculture program (CSA). Some are seasonal while others are year round programs. Once you subscribe, many will drop affordable, high quality locally-grown produce right at your door step.
To find a CSA near you, go to the USDA’s website where you can search by city, state, or zip code.
Here are a some other great resources to obtain wholesome food that supports not only you but also the environment:
- Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals -- The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
- Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) -- CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.
- FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes “Find Good Food” map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSA's, and markets near you.
3. Local farmers are perhaps your best source for seasonal produce like winter squash, carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, apples, beets and turnips. You can find your local farmers on www.localharvest.org.
4. Shop at your local natural food store or health co-op, as many of them get their produce from local farmers.
5. If everything else fails, shop at your locally owned grocers rather than large chain supermarkets. Many small private grocers also supply produce from local sources.
Aside from determining where to find locally-grown produce, shopping in bulk, and freezing or drying fresh foods to stock up your pantry will cut down on your driving. And putting less mileage on your car is also a fine way to reduce your ecological impact.
Eight Signs of High-Quality Food
So, you’ve located a convenient source for your food… Here are my best tips on what to look for when trying to determine the healthiest foods possible, no matter where you shop.
You’ll want to look for foods that are:
Foods that meet these standards will almost always be a wise choice.
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)