Did you know that when you buy locally grown produce, you’re making a choice to do something that’s better for you and your family, but that also benefits your community and the environment? Well it’s true. Not only do you prevent the negative consequences that come from shipping, trucking and flying produce long distances, but you also boost the health and economic and cultural vitality of your community in ways you might not have thought about. Here are ten ways, both direct and indirect, that buying locally grown produce like Plenty’s benefits everyone.
Local means more genetic diversity.
Modern large-scale farming favors plant varieties that produce high yields, can withstand packing, shipping and storage, and ripen uniformly for efficient harvesting. Over time, this has narrowed the options available to both consumers and farmers, which is why you see the same type of broccoli, the same three varieties of lettuce, and the same two varieties of nectarines (“white” and “yellow”) wherever you go. Local farmers do just the opposite; they seek out heirloom and other specialty varieties in a rainbow of hues and distinct flavors, extending their growing season with varying times to harvest.
Local means better flavor.
Along with this diversity comes a direct benefit to you, the consumer: a completely different eating experience. Compare a salad made with tender baby lettuces and arugula or a bowl of berries picked at peak ripeness to the usual supermarket offerings and you’ll never go back.
Local teaches kids to eat healthier.
There’s no question that a platter of ripe purple, yellow, red and maybe even green tomatoes looks more appetizing than the pale, mealy Roma and beefsteak tomatoes of yore — and of course, they taste way better, too. When kids grow up with access to delicious, full-flavored fruits and vegetables, they learn to eat healthier, a habit that will stay with them all their lives.
Local is supporting your community.
In 1890, nearly 90% of the U.S. population lived and worked on a farm. Since that time, the increasing specialization of the farm economy has dramatically reduced that number. The 1980’s saw the farm economy go bust, and millions of families lost their agricultural heritage. Today, less than 2% of the U.S. population is employed in agriculture. The farms that remain are facing tremendous pressure. The good news? The rise of the farmer’s market and the CSA has supported the growth of a new generation of farmer. When you buy from a local producer, you’re participating in a time-honored transaction that supports your local economy at every level. Local farms provide jobs, and by cutting out the middleman you ensure that most of what you pay goes to those that grew the food.
Local increases food security.
Our food system is concentrated to large farms in rural areas which ship to their customers (an average of 1300 miles!). This means that access to food in cities is dependent on a reliable supply chain across the country. Cities can increase their food security by supporting local farms closer to home. By buying local, you’re helping ensure that farms remain in your community, even as the population grows and development spreads. Helping ensure a nearby supply of food is always a good thing in an unstable world.
Local is more nutritious.
Fruits and vegetables begin to lose their nutrient content as soon as they are picked. Spinach, for example, can lose 90 percent of its vitamin C within 24 hours of harvest, peas lose 55 percent, and other vegetables lose anywhere between 15 and 55 percent. The same degradation occurs with B vitamins, phytochemicals and other valuable nutrients and compounds; researchers use vitamin C as a marker because it’s easy to measure. Buying local is the only way of ensuring that the produce you put on the table is as nutritious as it can be.
Local leads to less waste.
By some estimates, half of all the produce grown in the world ends up in the garbage. One recent report from the Potsdam Institute put current food waste at 1.3 billion tons a year, and called that a conservative estimate. And when it comes to agriculture, waste leads to more waste; the U.N. recently estimated that almost a quarter of all of our freshwater water use goes to grow food that was then wasted. Buying local is key to ending this waste, because most of the losses occur “upstream,” with produce rotting before it reaches the stores. The more you shorten the distance between farm and table, the less waste.
Local contributes to cleaner air.
All those trucks, ships, and plane cargo holds filled with produce come at high environmental cost, polluting the air, sucking up gas, and contributing significantly to climate change. In the U.S. alone, food trucking contributes 12.5 percent of total emissions, according to government data. And as we’ve come to expect pineapples, grapes and avocados year-round, the amount of produce circling the globe continues to increase; data from the EPA show vegetable imports up 50 percent and fruit imports up 35 percent in the five-year period between 2009 and 2014.
Local is safer.
The longer food is stored, the greater the risk it will rot or become contaminated. That’s why so many fruits and vegetables are treated with fungicides, disinfectants, gas, fumigants, coatings, and other chemicals. Buy local and you won’t have to worry about what’s been done to your food in the name of preservation.
Local brings people together.
As Kimbal Musk points out, “Food is a gift we give each other three times a day.” Not only does this speak to the importance of real, good food, but to the importance of community. Food provides a rich interface for us to create and build relationships and learn more about the people around us. There’s something very satisfying about buying herbs, greens, fruits and vegetables that were grown right in your very own town, by people who are part of your community. By constructing indoor vertical farms in cities and suburbs that don’t have access to open fields, Plenty will help bring together a community of conscious buyers and local growers.
Potsdam Food Waste Study FAO: United Nation food waste and climate report New York Times: Breeding Nutrition out of our Food Report on food trucking and climate change Vitamin retention in food storage National Institutes of Health report on Post-harvest treatment of produce
Fact sheets on nutrient degradation and produce storage, UC Davis USDA agricultural trucking report Overview of the supply chain in the U.S. Food Miles report from the Natural Resources Defense Council Postharvest Fact Sheets, UC Davis University of Kentucky: Supply chain management for organic produce