Author: Felicia Newhouse
Owner, Earthlands Farm
Buying your food from a trusted local family farm is not only fresher and healthier, it also has a tremendous impact on the health of your local economy and the planet at large. The more we all take the time to get educated about our food system and our active role within it - from soil to seed to plant to body to mind to planet - the more we can take proactive steps to collaborate as a community and live healthier lives on a healthier planet.
So you've heard it many times before: buy local food! Support your farmers! But what does "buying local" really mean, and is it really worth going out of your way to grab farm produce instead of hitting up your corner grocery store? Our answer here at Earthlands Farm is an overwhelming YES and we'll explain why here.
Smaller Carbon Footprint
Food is considered “local” if it is grown and harvested within 100 miles of your home or the restaurant where it’s served. Local food doesn't come on trucks or planes of boats from large commercial farms across the country or the world. Local food does come from you nearby farmer's markets, pick-your-own food farms and through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs like Earthlands Farm's weekly vegetable box CSA. Not only does food grown on a nearby farm leave a smaller carbon footprint and support your local economy, but it also tastes better and is better for you than food trucked in from faraway places. Before choosing a CSA, be sure to ask your local farmer questions about their farming methods and pesticide use (if any). Local farmers typically focus on soil health and safe growing practices, especially if they’re farming organically. Better quality soil and more sustainable farming practices typically mean better tasting, more nutritious produce. At Earthlands Farm for example, we practice low tillage, cover cropping and are 100% pesticide and chemical free and are applying for our organic certification.
Fruits and vegetables begin to lose their nutrients within 24 hours of being harvested, so fresher produce is more nutritious. Most of the produce you purchase at your local grocer Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Shaws or Star Market had to be harvested before it’s fully ripe so it can survive its long trip to store shelves without rotting. Artificial lights and temperature changes further erode the food’s nutritional value. This goes for both standard and organic produce.
Locally grown food on the other hand is picked at its peak ripeness, when it’s most dense with nutrients. Nutritionist Kathleen Frith reported in her study for The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “Is Local Food More Nutritious?” that food left to fully ripen on the vine contains a higher nutrient content than produce picked before it is ripe. Researchers at Montclair State University and Unilever Research revealed that vitamin C in broccoli decreased by 50 percent when imported over broccoli that was locally harvested. The transportation process also showed reductions in vitamins like E, A and B. When we buy local food, we are often buying from family farmers who nurture nutrient density by caring for their soil with minerals, growing cover crops, and using low tillage practices. This, in turn, increases the percentage of nutrients in the produce when harvested, and retains essential microbes in the soil and food we eat. These microbes turn into bacteria in our gut that break down the food we eat and improve our gut health and whole body health. When we eat cabbage, for example, our body doesn’t consume the cabbage. The bacteria consumes the cabbage. And we feed off of what the bacteria has processed and released by the consumption of that cabbage. As highlighted in the documentary, “Kiss the Ground” the key to health is actually eating healthy dirt. We need to eat what’s in the dirt that’s transferred to the plants we eat. In addition to all of this, when we eat closer to home we also gain access to a more diverse selection of produce because more nutrient-rich varieties that may not be hardy enough for transportation for mass markets are available locally. The broader and more diverse our diet, the more nutrients we consumer. Remember: eat the rainbow!
Ever wonder why the food at some restaurants tastes better than at others? At Earthlands Farms we’ve learned the secret of the best chefs in Boston: they buy local farm produce! The most respected chefs will tell you that local farm food tastes better, it looks better, and they don’t have to waste time trying to cover up the food because the most simple ingredients stand for themselves in flavor density. Local produce also gives aspiring home chefs everywhere access to unusual ingredients that spice up their dinner menu, impress their friends and make eating healthy fun and adventurous.
Your family can save money on fresh, locally grown food by eating when it’s in season and buying from a local CSA. If you get produce fresh during growing season it’s around the same price (or maybe even less expensive) as produce in the grocery store, and preserving foods by canning or freezing can help you save money during the off-season, especially if you have a hard time going through a large CSA box each week. Also remember how steep the price is that we pay by eating low quality, processed food on a regular basis, and the long term damage it can do to our health and wealth and quality of life. Buying a CSA box for your whole family, sharing with other families or sharing with your roommates or co-workers are all great ways to cut costs and wastes when buying local too.
Supports the Economy & Environment
By shopping locally the money you spend will help to support local farm 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 as we’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic with shortages across the supply chain, the importance of resilient local food systems is critical as larger systems break down. While it can be a scary thought and hard to comprehend in abundant first world societies, the truth is there's increasing 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 and won’t last forever. And our heavy reliance on industrial farming cant and won’t last forever either. By removing large amounts of biomass with deforestation, mining the soil of nutrients and subsequently needing to add synthetic fertilizers to maintain yields, incredible amounts of carbon is released into the atmosphere and destroying our planet’s fragile ecosystem balance. There are incredible amounts of emissions associated with producing, packaging, and transporting food all around the world, and huge complex supply chains are beginning to reach their breaking points. Supporting our local farmers is one of the best decisions we can make for our family, our health and the sustainability of a world where our future generations can thrive, and not just survive.
We at Earthlands Farm hope these points have given you a glimpse into the many benefits of buying local produce, from the opportunities to obtain higher quality produce and the potential health effects, to the immense impact on the health of the planet and the benefits of supporting your local economy. Buying your food from a trusted local family farm is not only fresher and healthier, it also has a tremendous impact on the health of your local economy and the planet at large. The more we all take the time to get educated about our food system and our active role within it - from soil to seed to plant to body to mind to planet - the more we can take proactive steps to collaborate as a community and live healthier lives on a healthier planet.
Reach out to us at Earthlands Farm, ask us questions about our practices, visit our land, and partner with us to improve the world one table at a time.