Buy Local Food - It Pays More Than Once

10 years ago

With the cost of gas prices sky high and random contaminated food scares making the rounds regularly, it just might pay to buy local now more than it ever has. When you buy from local farmers and merchants your dollar stretches farther, you reduce your carbon footprint, and you keep your neighbors (relatively speaking) in business. Now, to me, that is ROI. And, the fact that it is summer for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere it is the easiest time of the year to do so.

My entire view of the food system shifted when I read Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" a year or so again. It contines to shift as I read "In Defense of Food" and starting watching some quality documentaries and talking to local growers.

That is why I just have to laugh when last year's spinach crisis resulted in colleagues saying at lunch "You're not eating spinach are you???" as if I were eating something from a Survivor challenge. I could confidently look them in the eye and say, "Of course! I bought it from the organic farmer down the street and am confident it does not suffer from these huge unknowns as the industrial sold version.

Heidi Tunnell states the case well in her post (with the big honking picture of a tomato) "Now Will You Eat Local Food?":

If the latest report doesn’t scare everyone into eating strictly local food I’m not quite sure what would. They are now saying they STILL don’t know where the salmonella outbreak came from. Could be onions, cilantro, jalapeños, or maybe they still just don’t really know- Yeah, that’s comforting.

So, buy local or grow your own! Then you don’t have to worry and start throwing stuff out of your cupboards each time there is an outbreak in our messed up food system.

You might think that you don't have the time or money to buy almost entirely local. After all, who has time to go to the grocery for non-perishables and then farm hop to get the rest? Goodness knows sometimes I feel like I'm hopping here and there, but I've streamlined. Consider Story Girl's approach in "Why I love CSA":

I recently signed up for a share in a CSA, which stands for Community supported Agriculture. For a seasonal subscription fee, I get a basket every week of fresh, naturally grown vegetables from a local farm. The contents of the basket change week to week based on what's coming up at the time.

She goes on to state four great reasons why she loves CSA. Here's one I particularly like:

2. Better food. The produce I get is organically grown and locally produced. I know this because I've seen it. It's also in my hand within 4 days of when it comes off the plant. This is the absolute best way to maximize the nutritional content of my vegetables (thus making me healthier, one say it saves money) and also the taste - oh my the taste. Tomato basil salad is practically a spiritual experience.

Amen to that! Taste a local farm vegetable side by side with one from a store. No comparison. When I read in "In Defense of Food" that today you'd need to eat 3 apples to match the nutrition in 1 apple grown in 1940 I almost had an episode. At first glance you might think it is more expensive to buy local or organic - it is a total myth. Nutrient for nutrient you actually save money.

Now, you might think -- but I live in an urban jungle! How could I ever find this stuff? Well Niki at Super Forest gives three great tips for New Yorkers in "Organic vs. Local Food Debate Take 2" (it doesn't get more urban than that) and I'm sure these ideas can be applied to any urban area: if it seems too hard to get to your local green market every week, here are 3 ways to get locally grown produce (and even local organic produce) into your kitchen, if you live in New York City:

1) Urban Organic: They are a home delivery service of strictly Organic produce that is 80% local.

2) CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).

3) Good Ol' Fresh Direct: Fresh Direct, another food delivery service has a section dedicated to local produce, meat, fish, cheese and wine.

If you Google CSA you can find one for your state and locale.

Buying local is a little like thinking Fair Trade goods from other countries. When you buy direct you eliminate the middle man, support a local merchant, and reduce your carbon footprint. Not to mention you keep a local farm in business which means something pleasant to look at rather than yet another strip mall or housing development.

Deb Miller has this to say in "Reduce Your ECO-FOOTPRINT - Buy Local":

Think of it this way. A head of iceberg lettuce can be grown by a local farmer, then shipped 5,000km away to a processing plant where it is sold for it’s final destination to London England (yes this actually happens). When all the mileage in fossil fuels and wear and tear on our highway system and other eco-pollution is added up for this "perishable" food item, the expense we pay as taxpayers and global residents is far greater than the nutritional value of this almost all water food. When we could have just gone down the road to the local food shed on a Saturday morning and purchased the lettuce directly from the producer. If we purchased locally, this would eliminate the middle man (or middle men), giving farmers a better price for their product. It also eliminates certain global trade laws that allows Canada to purchase the same head of lettuce or other foods at a cheaper price from foreign distributors. Local farmers are then undercut with this surface level "inexpensive" (remember the fossil fuels?) produce which has caused many home-grown farm boys and girls to have to shut down their family farms.

This doesn't mean you'll never buy something at the grocery store. That is pretty darn unrealistic. You can grab out of seasons produce there as well as nonperishables. However, this summer is the perfect time to do something good for your body, wallet, and the environment by buying local. I have to tell you it feels darn good as well and when you interact with local folks it is friendlier too. I for one am basking in toddling out to my own garden and pulling some lettuce and chard "just in time" for my meal and making the farms and local market rounds. And the big myth buster I have to share is that it hasn't increased our food spend one bit. If anything it has reduced it some. Now that's a win-win all around.


Paula Gregorowicz, owner of The Paula G. Company, works with women who are ready to create their lives and businesses the way the want rather than how they were told they "should". Get the free 12 part eCourse "How to Be Comfortable in Your Own Skin" and start taking charge of your own success.

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