Who doesn’t enjoy freshly grown foods, and it’s even better when it comes from your own home town! One reason people choose local produce is because of the fresh taste and the fact that buying at a farmer’s market supports the local economy. Those are good reasons to visit your local farmer’s market, particularly in the summer, when you can soak up the sun while you stock up on locally grown produce, like homegrown tomatoes, fresh broccoli, and tasty strawberries that taste like they were just picked. Plus, some farmers’ markets offer prepared items too, like locally made jams, bread, goat’s milk, and more. Many are handmade items that you can’t get at your local supermarket. Local produce may taste better and help out the farmers, but is it really better for your health?
What Does Local Food Mean?
First, let’s clarify what it means to buy local. In general, food is local if it was grown or raised within 100 miles of the location it’s sold from. Would you believe many mass-produced foods travel as many as 1500 miles to reach their destination? The shorter travel distance, in and of itself, is a health bonus. A University of California study showed that vegetables lose between 15% and 55% of their vitamin C within a week after harvest. In fact, leafy greens begin to lose vitamin C in as little as 24 hours after picking.
When you buy fruits and vegetables from a local grocery store, they may have traveled hundreds of miles after harvest and then sat under the lights in the grocery store for days. Vitamin C is very sensitive to light and heat. We know that cooking can lead to a substantial loss of vitamin C, but sitting on a grocery store shelf leads to nutrient loss too. So, you’re already lost some vitamin C before you even prepare the veggie. You avoid some of that loss when you buy locally, as the produce is harvested recently and doesn’t travel far.
Vitamin C isn’t the only vitamin that decreases when produce sits around. Some B-vitamins, particularly riboflavin and folate, are unstable when exposed to light. In fact, spinach can lose almost half of its folate only eight days after harvest. Another study from Montclair University found broccoli, too, loses half of its vitamin C content when it’s shipped out of the country.
Are Local Foods From a Farmer’s Market Better for Your Health?
Based on the nutrient content alone, local foods are a better choice. But that’s not the only reason to choose local. Farmers are less likely to spray their crops heavily with pesticides and some use none at all. Remember, farmers feed their families what they grow, and they don’t want the exposure to pesticides either. Yet, getting organic certification involves jumping through a lot of hoops and many farmers don’t have the resources to do that. So, you can often get less heavily sprayed produce at a lesser price than buying certified organic. Plus, you can always ask local farmers about their farming practices, what fertilizers they use and whether they use pesticides. Buying locally establishes a relationship between you and the grower, something you don’t get when you buy from a supermarket.
Buying locally also helps you eat with the seasons. When you buy seasonal produce, it’s tastier and cheaper. There’s no middleman to jack up the price of locally grown fruits and vegetables. You can always stock up on seasonal items at their peak and freeze or dehydrate them for later use. Another reason to buy local is it keeps you out of the supermarket where most of the items are highly processed. Studies show that more than 60% of the items in a supermarket are ultra-processed fare, the stuff you want to avoid. However, you might see brownies, homemade brownies, and other sugary goodies at a farmer’s market. Better to pass those up!
Buying local produce may also lower your risk of food poisoning. Decentralized production of food means food travels shorter distances with fewer points where contamination could take place. Still, you should thoroughly wash produce before eating it, regardless of where it comes from.
Another Reason to Eat Local From a Farmer’s Market
Local food is better for the environment, too. There’s less distance for produce to travel and that means less fuel usage and carbon dioxide emissions from the combustion of petroleum-based products. Also, less pollution enters the environment. Who isn’t concerned about the quality of the air we breathe? According to the World Health Organization, air pollution is a factor in 29% of deaths from lung cancer.
Watch for Imposters
While there’s mostly good to shopping at a farmer’s market, get to know the vendors you buy from. Unfortunately, there are vendors who aren’t actually farmers or producers that buy wholesale produce from large operations and resell them as local.
The Bottom Line
Now, you know why local may be better for your health, healthier for the environment, and friendlier to farmers. Maybe it’s time to pay a visit to your local farmer’s market and survey the fare. If it’s a sunny day, your skin will absorb the sun’s rays and use them to make vitamin D. Plus, you’ll be moving your body as you walk through the market. On the way home, why not stop at a healthy, farm-to-table restaurant and enjoy a local artfully prepared meal for you? There’s a growing number that serve entrees made from resources within 100 miles of the restaurant. So, enjoy!
By the way, you can even grow some of your own produce if you have the time and resources. That’s the ultimate in local! If space and time is an issue, try growing herbs in pots in a sunny window. The best way to know what’s in your food is to be the producer. But if you don’t have time for gardening, take advantage of the growing quantity of local produce that’s available in your community. Everyone wins!
· State of the Planet. Earth Institute. Columbia University. “How Green is Local Food?”
· Health Place. 2012 Sep; 18(5): 1172–1187.
· World Health Organization. “Ambient air pollution: Health impacts”
· Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2008 Feb;59(1):34-45.