Eating local (or being a “locavore”) can mean many different things, from consuming food that’s been produced within a 100-mile radius to sticking with what’s grown or raised in your state. Regardless of exactly where you draw the “local” line, buying groceries sourced close to home can offer plenty of options for eating a healthy, clean diet and provide a bevy of benefits for your health, the environment and more.
Here are seven reasons we like to eat local whenever possible:
Better Flavor: If you’ve ever bitten into a vine-ripe tomato or an orchard-fresh peach, you know firsthand one of our favorite benefits of eating locally: Food simply tastes better! In order for produce from faraway locations to reach you before it goes bad, it’s often harvested and shipped before it’s ready to eat, which can result in bland-tasting fruits and vegetables. Those from nearby farms, on the other hand, are just-picked (or cut, or pulled) and sold to you soon after—at the height of their deliciousness, if you will.
Higher Nutritional Value: The concentration of most vitamins and minerals begins to deteriorate as soon as a fruit or vegetable is picked. So, the longer it takes for a food to get from the field to the grocery store to your plate, the lower its nutrient level will be. Choosing produce that doesn’t have to travel far, then, helps ensure you’re getting the most nutrition for your dollar. Plus: Since local farms sell what their regional conditions allow for at a given time of year, you’ll get foods that are in-season and, thus, at their nutritional peak.
Environmentally Friendly: Another benefit of less travel time to get a food to your table? That local, smaller business you’re buying from uses less fossil fuel (or, if you buy straight at the source itself, potentially none at all) to get its goods in the hands of customers like you than industrial operations. That translates to less impact on air and water pollution.
Intel on Growing Practices: Unlike aisle two at the supermarket, local farms and markets are typically staffed by the very people who raised the food you’re buying. This gives you an opportunity to ask about the methods they use on site. A short conversation can answer questions you might have about pesticides, hormones or other additives. You can also check the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce to help you make healthy choices.
Safer Supply: From cantaloupe to chicken, widespread food recalls are unfortunately becoming more common. While smaller-scale local operations are not immune to the contamination issues faced by larger food producers, it’s easier for them to keep the damage from spreading when something does go wrong. And while it may take a while for investigators to trace the reach of, say, a salmonella outbreak from spinach grown in California, that’s less of a concern if you know your greens come from your local farmer in Virginia.
Early Availability: Certain growing practices used by local farmers can allow them to harvest produce earlier. Greenhouse-like structures called high tunnels offer warmer air to raise crops like strawberries and tomatoes several weeks prior to the normal planting period. Buying from farms that incorporate these growing methods means you’ll be able to enjoy seasonal favorites a bit sooner than expected.
Stronger Community Connection: Shopping at local businesses like farmer’s markets, farm stands and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture programs) can help you get to know your neighbors and feel like a part of a larger group. It also plays a role in supporting the local economy; food grown and sold in your area helps maintain (and potentially generate) jobs—and fill pockets.