The benefits of local foods
By Sanda Everette, Green Party of California
If you can’t grow your own food, participate in a “community supported agriculture” (CSA) program with a local farmer or buy locally from farmers’ markets. Both CSA’s and farmers’ markets allow farmers to get retail prices for their crops, and save us money by eliminating the middleman. Both help to develop a regional food supply and strong local economy; maintain a sense of community; encourage land stewardship; and honor the knowledge and experience of growers. These arrangements are ecologically sound because they reduce the long-distance trucking involved in much of today’s produce delivery. The need is increasing to produce our own food or get it from sources closer to home as the “peak oil” crisis continues to grow.
Locally grown food tastes better. Food grown in your own community was probably picked within the past day or two. It’s crisp, sweet and loaded with flavor. Produce flown or trucked in from Florida, Chile, Mexico, or Holland is, quite understandably, much older. Several studies have shown that the average distance food travels from farm to plate is 1,500 miles.
Local produce is better for you. A recent study showed that fresh produce loses nutrients quickly. Food that is frozen or canned soon after harvest is actually more nutritious than some “fresh” produce that has been on the truck or supermarket shelf for a week. Locally grown food, purchased soon after harvest, retains its nutrients. In a week-long (or more) delay from harvest to dinner table, sugars turn to starches, plant cells shrink, and produce loses its vitality.
Local food preserves genetic diversity. In the modern industrial agricultural system, varieties are chosen for their ability to ripen simultaneously and withstand harvesting equipment; for a tough skin that can survive packing and shipping; and for an ability to have a long shelf life in the store. Only a handful of hybrid varieties of each fruit and vegetable meet those rigorous demands, so there is little genetic diversity in the plants grown. Local farms, in contrast, grow a huge number of varieties to provide a long season of harvest, an array of eye-catching colors, and the best flavors. Many varieties are heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation, be cause they taste good. These old varieties contain genetic material from hundreds or even thousands of years of human selection; they may someday provide the genes needed to create varieties that will thrive in a changing climate.
Local foods are free of genetically modified organisms. Although biotechnology companies have been trying to commercialize genetically modified fruits and vegetables, they are currently licensing them only to large factory-style farms. Local farmers don’t have access to genetically modified seed, and most of them wouldn’t use it even if they could. A June 2001 survey by ABC News showed that 93 percent of Americans want labels on genetically modified food—most so that they can avoid it.
Eating healthy food isn’t expensive or difficult when you eat farm-fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables.