As an aspiring farmer and an advocate of local, seasonal foods this is my favorite time of year.
June on Long Island means the growing season is underway. Spinach, asparagus, sugar snap peas are being offered at local farm stands Farmers markets are starting to re-open and Community Supported Agriculture shares will soon be distributed. As a holistic health coach, I know eating local and seasonal foods is a super-simple and powerful strategy for improving one’s diet and health. Over the past couple of years, there has been a growing movement to eat local foods and, I believe, there are many good reasons for doing so…..here are my top eight.
- It just plain tastes better. Local food is distinctively more fresh, ripe and flavorful than its well-traveled counterparts. Produce purchased in the supermarket or a big-box store has been in transit or cold-stored for days or weeks, produce that you purchase locally often has been picked within 24 hours of your purchase. Anyone with taste buds can tell the difference between a sweet, ripe heirloom tomato at the height of summer and a mealy, pink-red, tomato imposter from the grocery store. Whether you grew the tasty tomato, got it from a generous friend or bought it at the farmer’s market– it is just exponentially more satisfying. I am not a big fan of zucchini, yet when I get one from the person who grew it – I am excited about discovering new ways to cook it. When you develop a relationship with your farmer, their excitement about new crops, latest harvests, and new varieties will undoubtedly inspire, educate you, and make everything you cook taste better.
- It is more nutritious. Studies show that many foods lose nutritional value with storage and transport. It is estimated that the average American meal travels about 1600 miles to get from farm to plate. Imagine having your dinner shipped to you from Texas each day! In order to transport food long distances, much of it is picked while still unripe and then gassed to “ripen” it after transport, or it is highly processed in factories using preservatives, irradiation, and other means to keep it stable for transport and sale. Fresh, local, whole foods are better for your health than foods from the industrialized farm system.
- Supports local farmers and local economies. Buying locally grown food from local farmers supports individuals in your community. This contributes to the health of all sectors of the local economy, increasing the local quality of life. According to studies, a dollar spent locally generates twice as much income for the local economy. Locate your local farmers by visiting the Long Island Farm Bureau website (www.lifb.com) or www.localharvest.org.
- Buying local food keeps us in touch with the seasons. Eating local food means eating seasonal foods. In a hot and dry season like summer, nature provides us with juicy and cooling foods like watermelons, cucumbers and tomatoes. By eating local foods, we keep ourselves in harmony with natural seasonal rhythms and are healthier for it.
- Local food translates to more variety. Industrial agricultural supports more uniform, less diverse crop varieties which has led to a huge loss of agricultural biodiversity. According to the Agricultural Biodiversity Coalition, more than 90 per cent of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields as a result of industrial agriculture. When a farmer is producing food that will not travel a long distance, will have a shorter shelf life, and does not have a high-yield demand, the farmer is free to try small crops of various fruits and vegetables that would probably never make it to a large supermarket. In this way, the local farmer supports agricultural biodiversity, which is important for all life on our planet.
- Save money. Fresher produce has a longer shelf life which means less spoilage and waste. Did you know the average family could reduce weekly food expenditures by up to 25% just by reducing wasted food? Additionally, seasonal foods are the most abundant and the least expensive. The most cost effective way that I know of to keep yourself and your family in a steady supply of local, organic produce is to join a Community Supported Agriculture Farm. When you join a CSA, you purchase a share of the farms harvest. Each week from early June through mid November you receive a box full of freshly picked local produce. To find a CSA near you, visit www.localharvest.org
- Better for the environment. Less transportation miles means less of a carbon footprint. According to calculations in a recent Washington Post article, local farmers are 32 times more efficient at delivering their products to market than long-distance shipping.
- Supporting local farmers supports responsible land development. When you buy local, you give those with local open space – farms and pastures – an economic reason to stay open and undeveloped. I know I would rather see our island’s farmlands and open space preserved instead of being replaced with strip malls and big box stores. How about you?