In my last blog I wrote about the necessary evil of Factory Farming. To balance that topic, I would like to talk about eating local.
The 2007 Oxford word of the year is Locavore. If you haven’t heard of this word yet, you can probably guess its meaning from the sound. Loca stands for local and vore for devour or local eating.
What are the benefits to eating local?
First, when you eat food that was recently harvested, it is picked at the peak of perfection. If you have ever eaten a fresh peach off a tree or sweet corn picked that morning, you know what I mean. The flavor and freshness can’t be beat. Additionally, the food contains most of its nutrients at its peak. It is the best time to eat, can or freeze fruits and vegetables for optimum nutritional value.
Second, you know where your food comes from. You’ve read the stories about meats that are sent from the US to China to be processed and then sent back here. Stop and think about that for a moment. Not only are China’s food handling practices questionable at best, the meat has to be loaded with preservatives in order to last the amount of time it takes for the whole process. Local meats are usually processed within days of being sold and they rarely leave the area in which they were raised, local butchers are USDA certified, and small scale farmers generally feed their animals better than factory farms, often allowing for free range grazing.
Third, you can speak to the person who raised your food. You can’t do that at the local grocery store. But you can make friends with your local farmer and know exactly what is going into the products they sell. Many farmers open their farms to visitors and are happy to discuss their farming practices with you.
Fourth, it gets you out of the house. We all dread grocery shopping…the crowded aisles, the long lines…but we rarely dislike heading out for a nice drive to a local farmers’ market or farm stand. People are just more relaxed and enjoyable when they are out at a farm buying fresh food.
Fifth, it’s better for the environment. Think about the energy consumption it takes to send pigs and cows halfway around the world to be processed in China and then shipped all the way back and sent to all the individual grocery stores around the country. Wouldn’t it be more energy efficient to sell local meats, eggs and dairy products from nearby farms?
Sixth, variety…it’s the spice of life. Local farmers who aren’t worried about selling to main stream markets like to try new varieties of old favorites. In the summer months at any given farmers’ market you can find several varieties of tomatoes, lettuce and peppers, among others. Or, some farms may try new varieties of cheese. Plus you can find different types of meats you won’t normally find at the grocery store such as duck, rabbit or goat. It’s a great way to try out new foods and play with recipes.
Granted, there will be some things for which you will need to visit your local store. You won’t find fresh picked bananas or mangoes in New Hampshire and you won’t find many summer crops in winter. Still, if you plan it right, you will be able to have fresh meat, eggs and cheese all winter along with root vegetables and perhaps some hothouse tomatoes. Canning and freezing can preserve some of that summer harvest well into the winter months and many local farmers sell preserves, salsas and other canned goods.
The cost of some locally grown products can be a bit prohibitive. This isn’t the fault of the local farmer and I could go into the whole thing about government subsidies for factory farms that could be better spent helping to balance the prices of local products. Until that day comes, know that the higher cost comes with many advantages that include not only tasty, healthy products, but that you will also be contributing to a greener environment that encourages open spaces.