Whenever you go out for food, whether for groceries or out to a restaurant, you might encounter local foods. Restaurants will quote the local suppliers they buy food from, and grocery stores will brightly label locally sourced items.
Eating local food has some nominal, vague benefits that most are aware of. These include supporting local businesses and healthier and tastier creations, among others. While these are both very real potential benefits, buying local foods has even more wider-spanning perks.
Admittedly, not all foods can be bought locally. If you buy saffron in the U.S, it’s likely imported from continents away. For the most part, though, many of our daily essentials can and should be purchased locally.
How “Local Food” Is Defined
Many consider the boundaries of the state and surrounding area within 100 miles to be the limitations of local food. However, there is no set geographical boundary of what constitutes “local” food. Local food is generally produced by small and mid-scale family farms.
More importantly, the way local farms do business differs from how wide-scale, corporatized farms do business. Whereas corporatized farms primarily sell through retailer markets, local farms have three primary income streams.
These are intermediary markets, direct-to-consumer, and retailers:
Definition of Intermediate Markets
Intermediate Markets include any markets where the route from farm-to-consumer becomes elongated. This can include food distributors, caterers, and institutions like schools and nursing homes.
Definition of Direct-to-Consumer Markets
Direct-to-consumer is the traditional method of sale, notably including farmers' markets, but includes other avenues as well. It also includes on-site and off-site sales, as well as online ordering.
Definition of Retailers
Retailers, meanwhile, are the simplest to explain. These include the traditional food stores and specialty stores where most groceries are purchased.
Statistics on Food Sales per Market
A 2015 study found that 39% of food sales occurred through intermediate markets, 34% direct-to-consumer, and 27% through retailers. This same study found that few local farms had significant income in all forms of direct sales. Each farm produces according to its unique standards and goals.
Now, we’ll highlight the numerous benefits that make local food worth your while.
Health Benefits of Eating Locally
One of the biggest reasons people seek out local food is the health benefits. We’ll spoil one of the items below: Yes, they are more nutritious. However, health benefits are a mere fraction of the good local foods do for you.
With direct-to-consumer sales, you get a fresher product than you necessarily would from a retailer. This can result in tastier meals and reduce exposure to preservatives.
Local foods are also significantly more nutritious than their preservative-packed counterparts, but the reason behind this may surprise you. Most fruits and vegetables see nutrient degradation mere days after harvesting.
If all you are eating is food that was harvested a week or more ago, you’re not doing yourself any favors. To make the most of your food, stop by your local farmer’s market and make something delicious and nutritious.
Shopping locally may also improve mindfulness. Mindfulness is about changing how we interact with the world by enhancing our awareness and intentionality. If you’ve ever meditated, then you know the benefits it can bring. When you buy local food, you expand your awareness of the immediate world around you and vary your diet.
You might be able to buy out-of-season produce in chain stores, but buying local requires you to vary your diet. On the one hand, this can help you introduce more balance through various seasonal foods. It can also introduce new fruits and vegetables you may have never tried otherwise. By eating with the seasons, you might uncover new favorite foods and recipes to try all year long.
These are just the health benefits. Eating local foods also has a positive environmental impact:
Environmental Benefits of Eating Local Foods
We depend on the environment to live, breathe, and do almost everything we do. Ethical and sustainable practices in farming help us protect it for the future.
Less Fossil Fuel Use
When you eat local foods, it reduces the physical distance food must travel from the farm to your plate. Decreasing transportation mileage results in reduced emissions.
With direct-to-consumer sales, you can also get food directly from a local farm. This reduced transit can also reduce the risk of contamination, which is a concern where food passes through multiple intermediaries.
The Impact of Eating Vegetarian
A much more significant factor in emissions is not how far food travels but how it is produced. If you want to minimize your ecological footprint more, consider the type of food you are eating.
The net footprint of red meat far exceeds many fruits, vegetables, and grains. To reduce your carbon footprint even further, consider replacing red meat periodically with any number of locally-produced, vegetarian superfoods.
Local farms are also more likely to adopt sustainable farming practices than large, corporate farms. These include enriching the soil, practicing ethical chemical use, and cycling crops for preservation. Incidentally, these methods also usually result in tastier, nutritious food in the long term. This makes sustainable farming both an environmental and health benefit.
Sustainable Produce Diversity
Crops and animals alike are often raised and genetically altered to promote bigger yields and better flavors. This has been the case for the history of farming and is itself not bad.
However, this can also leave them susceptible to blights if a lack of genetic diversity exists within the crop. Smaller farms can more easily raise a diverse group of plants, resulting in more varieties of crops to choose from.
Local foods can help promote healthy utilization of the natural world. More importantly, it promotes health and safety in your immediate surroundings.
Socioeconomic Benefits of Local Food Production
The health and environmental benefits alone make a compelling case for eating local foods, but we would be remiss not to mention the cultural benefits.
Spending your money at a local farm invests money directly into your community rather than corporate pockets. This supports local farmers, as well as helping any employees they may have. Because farmers sell directly to consumers, they can also pocket a larger percentage of the money spent.
Local farms also require numerous people to work, distribute, and sell at farmer’s markets. Investing in local food provides numerous jobs within the community.
It’s also easier to procure food locally. If you’ve ordered anything online or within the tech field recently, you know the supply chain is strained. Multiple local farms can come together to create centralized hubs, similar to grain elevators. This can protect food supplies in case of disaster.
A last, and equally essential benefit, is that local farms can support local restaurants, institutions, and other touchstones. They also generate taxes to help support local infrastructure and other personal interests. The end result is that an investment in local farms helps support the entire community.
When you invest in local food, you reap the same benefits to be had from any local institution. Rather than supporting a chain, you can support the community itself when you shop locally.
Drawbacks of Local Food
Buying local food is full of benefits in every sphere of life. There is an opportunity cost for choosing food close to home (as with everything).
While the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks, it would be unfair of us to pretend that these don’t exist:
- Affordability: Local foods tend to cost more than their mass-produced counterparts. This can add up if you source everything you buy from these types of farms.
- Variety: Farms can only grow so much and so many varieties. If you are looking for specific products, you might not be able to find them all in one place.
- Accessibility: Going to a farmer's market can be a fun and enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. Unfortunately, it can be time-consuming if you are someone whose time is at a premium. Many markets also have very specific hours, which you may not have in your schedule.
These are not small issues. Especially in underserved communities, access to cheap food is often prioritized out of necessity. Still, these three drawbacks pale in comparison to the numerous benefits local farms have.
Eating Local for a Better Tomorrow
Eating local foods offers unequivocal benefits. They are good for your health, good for our environment, and good for the community at large. Whether you are curious about new foods, better taste, better health benefits, or community outreach, there are reasons to explore.
At Olivers, we are always looking for ways to be better than we were the day before. This includes apparel for those always looking to explore and information for those looking to be informed.
We try to do our part for the global community by using quality, ethically-sourced fabrics. With durable fabrics, less material ends up in landfills, like with the fast fashion practices damaging our environment.
Sustainability, ethicality, and improved living are all essential topics to research and uncover for yourself. With local food, you can make your life just a little sweeter.