Hello, dear readers! It may not look or feel like spring here today, but warmer weather and sunshine are just around the corner. And this week, to celebrate spring’s arrival, I’ve decided to take a break from my usual writerly topics to talk about something else I’m passionate about–eating locally-grown food.
True confession: For the first two-thirds of my life, if you had asked me where food comes from, I would have said, “The grocery store.” Now don’t be hard on my parents. We moved so often they couldn’t grow much of a garden, but the idea of growing some tomatoes or peppers or strawberries in the backyard wasn’t a foreign concept to me.
It was the idea that all the food in the grocery store had to come from farms, where people planted, tended, and harvested the crops, that was the foreign concept. Now that I’ve spent almost ten years living in Michigan, surrounded by farms and orchards, I have a completely different appreciation for how our food is produced and I love discovering new sources for local food.
So why eat local? Here are some top reasons:
- Fresher, seasonal food is more flavorful and more nutrient dense. Produce that has to be shipped is often picked well before it’s ripe and then artificially ripened later. The taste won’t be nearly as good, and much of the nutrition degrades before it reaches you weeks later.
- Locally-produced food is healthier. When you buy directly from a local small farm, you have the chance to learn exactly how your food is being produced. Do they spray their crops with pesticides? Do they give the livestock antibiotics and growth hormones? Usually the answer to both these questions will be a resounding “No.” Many small farms could even qualify as organic if they went through the certification process. What about those large-scale industrial farms that ship to grocery stores? Have you ever really considered how they’re raising your food? Most people know organic produce is healthier, but what about meat and dairy products? Moving on to number 3…
- Pastured animals are healthier, meaning better quality food. According to sustainabletable.org, meat from pastured animals is lower in calories and fat, has more vitamins, and contains healthier fats than their feedlot-raised counterparts. Because the animals eat grass and hay instead of corn, their digestive systems work more efficiently, improving the animals’ health. Healthier animals need less medication and are less likely to spread illness.
- Buying locally is better for the environment. Shipping costs aside, think about the environmental footprint of huge industrialized agricultural operations. Once you cram thousands of cattle into the same small area, where they’re standing ankle deep in manure, where is all the rainwater runoff taking it? Perhaps into the nearest river and then down into the ocean? What about the gases produced by so many cattle in one area? Or the runoff from all the pesticides sprayed on fields of produce? Blech. Wouldn’t it be better to invest your food budget into supporting sustainable, environmentally-friendly farming practices?
- Buying locally helps support your local economy. When you find sources for your food in your own region, you put money back in the local economy. Farmers work hard to make a living (I’m amazed at what they do!), and we can support their efforts to produce healthy, environmentally-sound food by buying it directly from them.
But, you might be wondering, where do I actually find this fabulous, local produce and grass-fed meat? I am so glad you asked! As the locavore trend grows, we have an increasing number of options, even in urban areas. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Farmer’s Markets
- CSA – Community Shared Agriculture – When you buy a CSA share, you pay a lump sum in advance to a farm in exchange for a share of all the summer produce. It’s a great way to try out new veggies and save money on your produce.
- Food Co-ops – Here in West Michigan, we have access to a co-op that provides a way for farmers to sell directly to customers through a once-a-month ordering period and pick-up (West Michigan Co-op). It’s a great way to get meat, eggs, and seasonal produce.
- Bulk meat purchase – You need a lot of freezer space, but if you can get ten chickens or a quarter beef from a local farm, you’ll get a better price and quality than trying to buy these items from the grocery store.
- Delivery services – Some areas offer grocery delivery services that focus on local produce (like Doorganics). Others, like Sitka Salmon Shares, work with producers in their region to ship responsibly-sourced food directly to your door.
- Local grocery/ health food stores – When all else fails, you can often find items from local farms at small health food stores. The prices won’t be as good as if you sourced directly from the farmer, but you’ll still be getting healthier food and supporting your local economy.
If you’re not convinced yet, or you want to investigate some of these ideas for yourself, here are some suggested resources:
- Movies: Food, Inc. and Cowspiracy
- Books by Michael Pollan: In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto and The Omnivore’s Dilemma
- Websites: pickyourown.org – Find local U-pick farms
- localharvest.org – Find local farms and CSAs
- sustainabletable.org – Learn more about sustainable agriculture
Okay, I’m going to get down off my soap-box now, I promise. Next time we will get back to the world of writing and learn about how to craft a Writer’s Mission Statement. But if you have questions about local food, or if you want to share about an experience you’ve had with a CSA, feel free to contact me or leave a comment!
Image courtesy of pexels.com. CC0 License.