In the past, scouring Saturday morning Farmers’ Markets or joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) may have seemed like a lot of work to someone accustomed to shopping at “super” market chain stores. These days, however, it is becoming more and more popular to seek out seasonal, locally grown food sources and here’s some information that will help you understand why receiving even a portion of your food from local farmers (or your own garden) offers a great payback.
Is Locally Grown Food More Expensive?
Not really. This is a common misconception and here’s why! Crops in season are produced in abundance which increases their availability and generally lowers the price. For example, here in the Saratoga Springs, NY area, when sweet corn is being harvested, farmers will often sell 4 or 5 for a single dollar! And many times, the corn was picked fresh that morning instead of sitting in a grocery store cooler for days.
CSAs can also help lower the cost of fresh local food by charging a flat rate for an entire season of weekly deliveries of fresh produce along with other products. Sometimes people will split the plentiful weekly bounty, even further lowering the cost.
How Old Is That Produce?
A second benefit to locally grown food is freshness and taste. Locally grown food doesn’t need sit in warehouses and trucks while being shipped cross country. Foods grown to be shipped are often picked before they hit peak ripeness to keep them from spoiling. Think of a peach that has to be shipped cross country, or is out of season. Oftentimes, they are hard or have a mealy quality, which is nothing like the juicy, ripe, candy-sweet peaches we get to enjoy fresh from a farmer in the summer months.
Other problems with produce being shipped is that they are subject to irradiation to zap away germs, preservatives to ensure freshness or wax coating for protection. That’s a yuck times three!
In commercial markets, preservatives are often added directly INTO pre-packaged meats so that they will last longer, and sometimes dyes are added to make them appear fresher. While there are debates whether these preservation methods are harmful or not, it seems a lot safer to buy food that hasn’t been tampered with. This way, we don’t have to question what it’s been through before ending up in your fridge, and then our bodies.
Variety Is The Spice Of Life!
Small farms or fresh markets can also offer more variety from the different seasons in their area such as hand-picked fiddleheads or sweet, uniquely colored heirloom tomatoes. Grocery stores are hard pressed to provide products based on availability, uniformity, and how long they last. Therefore, the great variety of produce that each region produces can sometimes be underrepresented in their own local supermarkets. There are also studies showing that eating a wide variety of local products, and changing the types of produce you ingest along with what’s available in that particular season, can provide greater health benefits than eating the same fresh produce all year round.
What Can I Do If I’m Not Into Farmer’s Markets?
Many larger markets are now carrying local product. It is more likely that this local, seasonal product is fresher. Citrus fruit, for instance, is generally best in the winter time because that is when it is grown fresh, even if it is still shipped.
By paying attention to growing seasons, or even chatting up your local grocer, you can make informed decisions about food. After all, a huge part of eating locally and seasonally is knowing and feeling confident about where you food is coming from, what is contains and what, if anything, has been done to it.
My advice? Get out there and try some local fruit and veggies!