Have you ever been told to buy locally grown food? You may wonder if it is worth going out of your way to do so. In today’s blog I’m going to explore some of the benefits of eating locally.
Increasingly, we’re becoming more and more aware of the impact that our lifestyle choices have on our own health, the wider society and the environment. Our diets are intimately connected to the complex food supply chains that are existent around us. Supermarkets have created highly efficient and well established supply chains, buying produce from around the world and transporting it to us. This in turn does make it incredibly easy for us to find an astonishing variety of produce at affordable prices all year round.
While this is a great achievement, it doesn’t come without some major pitfalls. I’ll explain four reasons why local produce is often the better choice to make, for your own health and the health of the planet.
1. Fresh local produce is likely to have a higher nutrient value.
The longer it takes for fresh produce to reach our plates, the greater the loss of available vitamins and minerals. This doesn’t apply to all foods, for example starchy foods like rice can store well for years. However, fresh green leafy vegetables and fruit tend to lose their nutritional quality quickly, and these are the foods where micronutrients count the most. Once cut, the plant's natural enzymes and microbial activity begin breaking it down, leading to nutrient loss.
Another reason why local produce can have a higher nutritional value is because local farmers have the option of growing different nutrient-rich varieties of vegetables and fruits. These rarer varieties are often forgotten by the supermarkets because they are unsuitable for long-distance shipping because they don’t store well or are simply not the right size or shape for their standards.
Going local is often a decision made for the health of the planet, but it can also make an impact on your body’s health. The simple fact is that the more you buy/eat from local sources, the less processed food you are likely to consume. You will also be exposed to a greater variety of fruits and vegetables, bringing diversity into your diet.
2. Local produce tends to be higher quality and tastes better!
I don’t know if it’s just my experience but food freshly picked and eaten on the same day tastes a lot better than the majority of supermarket produce. Just a couple days back I picked a ripe cherry tomato straight from my garden, it’s incredible how strong the flavour is when compared to the ones I bought in the supermarket. The aromatics from so many fruiting crops like tomatoes or herbs like coriander and basil are lost when they spend time in transit and supermarket shelves.
Another reason why some supermarket produce doesn’t match up to home grown or locally grown food is because the crops are sometimes harvested before they ripen. This means that a vine of tomatoes can ripen while being transported so that they are ripe in store, which is great for business. However, if allowed to ripen on the plant, many fruits will have a better flavour and higher nutritional content, this is only possible with locally grown food.
Lastly, since your newly purchased local produce hasn’t spent so much time in transit, it will inevitably store much better. Our veg box customers here at Square Mile Farms receive their produce a couple hours after harvest. On many occasions they have mentioned that our vegetables and herbs have lasted in excess of a week in their fridge without losing their crisp, fresh quality.
3. To support your local economy
By shopping locally the money you spend will help to support local producers and create local jobs. If we want to ensure that we have a strong network of local farmers, we have to start supporting them. Right now this may not seem to be a pressing issue, since we have so much produce to choose from, but the importance of resilient local food systems will become more apparent in the future.
There is uncertainty in the future of our food system and there are many reasons why we could fall into food insecurity. Our heavy reliance on nonrenewable fossil fuels to sustain our energy-intensive food system can’t last forever. There are incredible amounts of emissions associated with producing, packaging, and transporting food all around the world.
4. Local farmers practice sustainable land management
Local smallholder farmers are generally far more sustainable than industrial scale farms, not only will they have fewer transport emissions associated with their food, but it is more likely that they are practicing sustainable land management practices.
Smallhold local farmers tend to use methods like cover cropping, crop rotation and intercropping with trees to put nutrients back into the soil for the health of their crops and land, this traps carbon in the earth. ‘Land use change’ emits far more carbon than transporting food across the world and industrial agriculture has long been associated with land use change, by removing large amounts of biomass with deforestation, mining the soil of nutrients and subsequently needing to add synthetic fertilisers to maintain yields, incredible amounts of carbon is released into the atmosphere.
I hope these four points have given you an understanding of the benefits of buying local produce, from the opportunities to obtain higher quality produce and the potential health effects, to the knock on impact to the health of the planet and the benefits of supporting your local economy.
I want to end this article by acknowledging a caveat to all of this. In relation to carbon emissions produced - what you eat is far more important than how far it has travelled. When farming certain foods like meat and dairy, the amount of fossil fuel inputs needed to produce these products release an incredibly high amount of carbon emissions. The transport emissions pale in comparison to the amount needed to farm meat or dairy.
Consuming more plant-based foods can help you to keep your carbon footprint down. You can read more about this in this article by Our World in Data. To provide a simple example, there would be far less carbon emissions associated with buying maize from South America, than there would be from buying beef from your local farmer.
The more we understand about the food system, the more we recognise how many grey areas there are. If there is a take away point from this, it is to eat locally, but also increase intake of plant-based foods. If you're interested in learning how to grow your own, why not come along to one of our online workshops?
Square Mile Farms bring vertical, urban farming to city dwellers in their homes and in the workplace. We aim to bring people closer to food production and help to create a culture of healthy, sustainable living. Find out more about our offering and get in touch here with any queries. Sign up to our newsletter for tips on a healthy lifestyle and a round-up of relevant news. You can also follow us on social media to stay up to date with our journey, find us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Why not join our online Urban Growing Community for advice on growing at home and much more!