Tag Archives: eating local

How Much Does Buying Local Food Really Matter?

I came across an article in the New York Times over the weekend about the real costs of food transportation. The overall point is that eating local foods may not be making as much of an impact as you think, because transporting it from one state to another can be more efficient in terms of energy use than growing it locally, especially if a heated greenhouse is needed to grow it.

The article makes some very good points, such as the fact that the energy to grow the produce is a bigger part of the energy cost than transporting it to the store. The energy cost from the store to your home is also usually one of the bigger costs – depending on where you live in relation to the store and how you get there, of course.

Then there’s refrigeration and preparation. Having food and preparing it to eat can add quite a bit to the energy used in dealing with that food.

I can’t say all of it works for me. The argument about the greenhouse simply points up that you should eat foods in season. Produce in season won’t need a greenhouse. There’s energy saved right there.

I’ll grant that cutting back on food miles is only a small impact. The size of the impact isn’t the point. It’s decreasing the environmental impact of your food in the ways available to you. That it’s small doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

The article says that transportation is about 14% of the energy used in the American food system. Why shouldn’t we try to decrease that number? It’s one of the areas where a decrease is possible.

Fortunately, the article does admit that there are some benefits to eating locally. Not very specifically, but at least the author isn’t entirely against it and just wants people to really think before they eat local. That’s a good thing.

How to Find Organic or Local Produce for Less

People often complain about the cost of organic and local produce, and rightfully so. It’s hard to buy them on many budgets. Since I’m working this month on buying local and/or organic produce for my family this month, I thought I would share some tactics for getting it for less.

Join a Co-op

This is where I’m getting my organic produce right now. The co-op tries for local as well, but that doesn’t always work out since they run year-round.

What I like about them is that since they are not attached to a particular farm they can respond to member preferences. There’s a thread on the member discussion board for people to ask for things they’d like to see in their baskets. You also don’t have to worry about crop failures. They buy what they can find from a variety of sources each week.

The challenge is in learning how to cook some of what is provided. This group provided my first experience with collard greens, for example. But that means more excuses to experiment with recipes!

Join a CSA

A CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is a way to buy a share of a farmer’s production in advance. It’s much like the co-op I’m a member of, except that it’s attached to a particular farm.

You really don’t know what you’re going to get each week, so once again it’s an excuse to try new recipes.

Visit the Farmer’s Market

In my experience, some farmer’s markets have really great prices, others not so much. You may have to shop around a little to find the one that has the best combination of prices, produce and quality in your area.

Not all produce at farmer’s markets will be either local or organic, but you’re always free to ask. And even if the prices aren’t spectacular they can be cheaper than the prices for organic produce at the grocery store. Just know your prices well enough to be sure of what you’re getting into.

You can also check back late in the day to see if anything has been marked down so that the farmer doesn’t have to haul it back. This won’t always work, and of course it’s been picked over all day, but it can be worth a shot.

Start Your Own Garden

If you have some space, this can be a lot of fun. It can add up if you aren’t careful about the supplies you buy, but for organic gardening you shouldn’t be spending a ton on fertilizers and such anyhow. You’ll do far better if you can get a good compost pile going.

Gardening can be both delightful and frustrating. Sometimes you’ll get an amazing harvest. Other times you’ll get nothing, and of course everything in between.

If you live in an area with water shortages, gardening may not work so well. I found it harder to keep a garden really thriving when we had a lot of rules about which days and times we could water. Just kind of limiting and hard to deal with on the hottest of summer days.

Don’t forget to share excess produce from your garden with neighbors. Not only is it fun, if they have excess they’re likely to reciprocate.

This is One Reason Why Eating Local & in Season Matters

I came across this really depressing but informative article on Gourmet.com about the use of slaves to harvest tomatoes. Pretty much if you eat tomatoes out of season, you’re eating food that was picked by people who are effectively slaves.

The article was published in March, but I only came across it recently while using Stumble Upon. Amazing the things I find there.

Pickers are lucky to pick a ton of tomatoes on a particular day, for which they would earn about $50. However, they have to be available even when there isn’t work, and they are generally charged outrageous rents for extremely poor housing.

They can even be beaten for being too sick to work.

Your choices matter. Pay attention to where you shop. The Campaign for Fair Food has gotten some companies to agree to give pickers a pay raise, although many farmers are refusing to cooperate or be a conduit for the raise.

At this point, Whole Foods is the only grocery chain signed on to not buy from growers who exploit workers so badly.

Almost as bad as the treatment so many workers labor under, are the people in the comments who feel they deserve such treatment for being in the United States illegally.

Yes, it’s hard to think of paying more for your food. But if you think of the people involved in the entire process of getting food to your table it might be worth it.

Where to Find Local Food Resources

I’ve talked a bit lately about my garden. I love being able to grow my own food. In fact, my husband came home the other day with an early Mother’s Day gift for me – more plants for the garden. I liked it.

I know, of course, that gardening isn’t for everyone. So today I wanted to get into local food sources. If you can’t garden, if you don’t want to, if your garden fails, whatever the reason, buying local is a great option.

Farmer’s markets are often an easy choice. There may be several in your area. The USDA has a page all about farmer’s markets, and it may be a place for you to start searching if you haven’t spotted them already on your own. But it definitely doesn’t have all of them listed. I searched for a farmer’s market I know of in my area, one that has been going on for years, and it wasn’t listed.

Local Harvest is another great resource. Once again, they didn’t have my local farmer’s market listed, but it did show another that I know of nearby.

Local Harvest can also help you to find a CSA to join in your area. Community Supported Agriculture groups are a great option if you don’t mind prepaying and not knowing what exactly you’re going to get. I haven’t tried one yet myself, but every time I read about someone who has, the selection impresses me.

The Eat Well Guide offers similar resources.

If you want to learn more about sustainable eating, I suggest checking out the Sustainable Table website. It has some great tips that will help you understand why you want to avoid conventionally farmed foods when you can.