April 16, 2008

Seven Reasons to Eat Local Food

It’s mid-April and markets around Missouri are opening up shop for the beginning of farmers’ market season. Although some markets have been open since about the third week of March, many of the more than 135 Missouri markets are opening within the next two weeks.

Consumers can expect to find bedding plants, spinach, lettuce, eggs, cheeses and meat at the market, as it’s too early to find many of the traditional vegetables at the market. For a listing of when fruits and vegetables will be in-season in Missouri view this Harvest Calendar from MU Extension.

The Local Foods Movement is sweeping across the Midwest, with consumers searching out local foods within their home communities. And what’s the best place to find fresh, nutritious, seasonal food….your local farmers’ market that's where.

Inside Columbia had a recent story that really makes you think about where your food comes from. The article, Think Global, Eat Local: Exploring A Healthy New Approach To Eating, says the average distance food travels from a farm to your table is around 2,000 miles, ¾ about the distance from Columbia to Seattle. Can you imagine?

Seven Benefits Of Eating Local Food

1. Unbeatable taste: Why do tomatoes from a farmers’ market taste so much better than most store-bought tomatoes? According to www.foodroutes.org, fruits and vegetables shipped from distant states and countries may spend a week or even two in transit before arriving at the supermarket. In contrast, most farmers’ market tomatoes have been off the vine for less than 24 hours when set out for sale. Local produce also tastes better because most shipped varieties are grown for their ability to withstand industrial harvesting equipment, extended travel and a long shelf life.“Local produce is grown for taste and nutrition,” says Michael McGowan, a board member of Sustainable Farms & Communities, a not-for-profit closely tied to the Columbia Farmers Market.

2. Better health and nutrition: Buying locally allows consumers to make selections based on the farmer’s use of pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and other additives. Currently, producers do not have to include this information on food labels. In addition, local foods — especially fruits and vegetables — have more nutritional value because they are allowed to ripen on the vine.

3. Greater variety: Local growers offer a tremendous selection. McGowan plans to grow 75 varieties of tomatoes for the Columbia Farmers Market this year, and he’s just one vendor.

4. Easier on the environment: Aside from the environmental concerns associated with industrial agriculture and confinement animal feeding operations, an industrial food supply requires transporting food items thousands of miles, which uses up fuel and creates pollution.“It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to ship food 2,000 miles when you can ship it 20 miles,” McGowan says.

5. Support for family farms: The 2002 Census of Agriculture showed a steep drop in the percentage of principal farm operators 35 years old or younger, from 15.9 percent in 1982 to 5.8 percent 20 years later. Eating local helps create the demand necessary to motivate a new generation to enter this risky business, Reuter says. He adds that the desire to keep family farms alive is about more than nostalgia; small farms create jobs that help diversify and thereby strengthen the local economy.

6. Improved security: According to a 2007 report by Hendrickson and University of Missouri rural sociology professor emeritus William Heffernan, 11 large firms control 83.5 percent of all U.S. beef slaughter, 66 percent of pork packing, 58.5 percent of broiler chicken production and 55 percent of turkey production. The same report shows four large firms control 55 percent of all U.S. flour milling and soybean crushing. If something bad happened at one of this big companies — anything from a safety recall to terrorism — the effect would be severe.

7. Stronger relationships: For many “localvores,” this benefit is the reason they feel passionate about local food systems. They love knowing the stories behind their food, they love connecting to a particular place, and they love interacting with other people who are passionate about food and culture.“Many people today have no meaningful understanding of where their food comes from, and thus no understanding of the ecological and social consequences of its production,” explains MU agricultural economics professor emeritus John Ikerd in his paper, Eating Local: A Matter of Integrity. “By eating local, people are able to reconnect with local farmers, and through local farmers, reconnect with the earth.…We cannot build a sustainable food system until people develop a deep understanding of their dependency upon each other and upon the earth. Thus, in my opinion, reconnecting is one of the most important reasons for eating local.”

Need to locate a Missouri farmers’ market near you? Check out the Missouri Farmers' Market Blog.

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