I’m fairly new to the benefits of buying food grown locally. When I found out that we would move to PA for Matt to work as a professor, I was in the midst of evaluating our food choices. Our first baby was beginning to eat with gusto. What should we be feeding him (and ourselves)? I stumbled upon coverage of this Journal of the American Medical Association article about the increased risk of ADHD associated with pesticide exposure and I was horrified.
Until that moment I had not realized that the cheap fruits and vegetables I was buying at the grocery store, as well as the processed food made with all that corn, soy, wheat, and other ingredients contained toxic chemicals. Very naively, I believed that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or some other government entity, would ensure the safety of my food supply. I thought the pesticides used to grow my food would have been washed away before being sold to me or that simply running them under some water would take away any unsavory additives.
With this wholly incorrect mindset, I fed my pregnant self and, subsequently my beautiful son some of the most highly pesticide laden fruits and vegetables available, often without even minimal washing. Disgusted and afraid, I began to seek out the best sources of food to nourish and not just feed my family. Surprisingly, at least surprisingly to me, I discovered that local food was the key to finding the most wholesome food while on a budget.
Eating plants and animals grown locally has become a big source of joy in my life and a new reason to love Pennsylvania. But I don’t just love the food itself. I’ve come to love and appreciate many side effects to local eating.
Creates less garbage or recyclables
Even though we are a family of four with a toddler in diapers and three indoor cats who use a litter box, we get only bi-monthly trash pick up of a 30 gallon bin that is never full. Additionally, we rarely need to take our recycling to our drop off point. Why?
Well . . . because our milk and eggs come in containers which are reused over and over again. Because we no longer buy cottage cheese, yogurt, or sour cream, opting to make our own. Because we buy very little food from the grocery store in boxes or cans. Because we started canning or freezing food purchased in the height of the season.
Builds unexpected friendships
In less than 2 years of eating locally, I’ve met some amazing people who have become my friends. Grace sells me my milk, but she also introduced me to my midwife, shared her kefir grains with me, and instructed me on how to make yogurt, kefir, and butter. Lynn sold me local eggs in the summer at our farmers market, and now she delivers eggs to my door weekly and has offered to teach me more about canning and help me find good deals on vegetables to put up this summer. Many others I’ve more casually met at markets have offered free samples, recipes, and advice about using or growing vegetables.
Pushes me out of my comfort zone
I had a way we bought food when we lived in Rhode Island. It involved a bimonthly trip to Sam’s Club and weekly visits to our local supermarket. We developed a way we liked to eat and we ate a lot of normal things including bread, soda, crackers, canned corn, frozen and fresh vegetables and a lot of dairy, beans, and rice. Buying more local food upset my established way of doing things and motivated me to try new things. Some of the new things I’ve tried that have been influenced by my food journey are: making cheese, growing vegetables, canning fruit, drying apples, and composting. It also caused me to question some assumptions I had about food–like I needed to eat bread, other grains, or beans to feel full or satisfied.
Makes me evaluate the competing “natural” claims at the supermarket
Finally, by learning more about my local food options and by getting to know my food suppliers on a first name basis, I started to differentiate between claims like free-range, organic, antibiotic-free, non-GMO feed, raw, pasteurized, pastured, grass-finished, and grain free. I’ll be looking at some of these terms more in future posts, but with all my talking and learning, I concluded that buying from a local farmer with more natural or sustainable practices is more important to me than buying USDA certified organic. Likewise, the most important thing to me when it comes to dairy or beef is that the animal was fed mainly on a natural grass diet.
What other benefits–the obvious or non-obvious side effects– come from buying local food?