If you’ve ever stopped by your neighborhood farmers market, the bountiful bunches of kale, locally crafted cheeses, seasonal fruits, and freshly baked bread are all results of a local food economy.
Eating local means enjoying more locally grown produce and other foods from farmers and producers in your community.
Several benefits come from eating local food, including environmental, economic, social, and health benefits.
Here are 7 fantastic benefits of eating local.
Food that’s grown or produced in your community isn’t imported from distant states or countries like a lot of supermarket items.
This means that local food, especially produce, is often extremely fresh and tastes better than nonlocal items. If you’ve ever enjoyed a perfectly ripe tomato or crate of strawberries from your farmers market, you know what I mean.
Local produce sold at farmers markets may be picked or harvested just a day or two before — or on the morning of the market.
As a result, some fruits and veggies can stay on the vine to ripen longer or may have more favorable growing conditions than they would if they had to travel to the grocery store. Depending on the type of produce, this may make them sweeter, juicier, and tastier.
Other types of local food, such as eggs from a farmer who raises chicken, are also usually fresher than options that come from farther away.
Most chefs and home cooks probably agree that the freshest ingredients tend to produce the best-tasting dishes. Of course, using fresh, local foods isn’t the only way to cook enjoyable meals, but it’s certainly a treat for your taste buds.
Food that’s sourced from your community doesn’t need to be shipped from afar and is very fresh, especially when it comes to produce.
Fruits and veggies may lose some of their nutrients during transportation and processing or while sitting on grocery store shelves.
Vitamin C, an important water-soluble nutrient that’s necessary for healthy skin and tissues, begins to degrade in fresh fruits and veggies shortly after harvesting (
What’s more, the antioxidant content of some produce declines during storage. Getting antioxidants from foods is important to fight reactive molecules called free radicals that contribute to disease (
Since locally grown produce usually doesn’t have to travel very far or sit in storage for long, it retains more nutrients.
Although this may not always be the case, chances are the fresh asparagus at the farmers market is more nutritious than the bunch you see at the store from a distant place.
It’s important to note that all types of fruits and veggies — fresh or frozen, local or nonlocal — provide important nutrients and are good additions to your diet.
Yet, if you have the opportunity to purchase locally grown options, you may get the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to nutrition.
Some foods, especially fruits and veggies, lose nutrients during transportation and storage, making local options usually more nutritious.
If you shop at farmers markets or local food co-ops, you’ll likely be introduced to a new or unique food that’s grown in your area.
Discovering these items is an excellent way to learn more about the food history and agricultural practices of your community. You may even find a new favorite food or ingredient.
Over years of shopping at farmers markets, I’ve tried locally grown and milled flour, cave-aged cheeses, teas made from herbs and plants foraged in my state, and so many interesting products.
Signing up for a community-supported agriculture (CSA) share is another great opportunity to expose yourself to local foods that may be new to you. CSA boxes are filled with produce and prepared directly by farmers for consumers.
These boxes sometimes contain unique veggies or fruits, including romanesco, celeriac, radicchio, and pattypan squash, which are difficult to find in stores.
Eating local often leads to the discovery of new and unique foods. In particular, CSA boxes are often filled with scrumptious, hard-to-find fruits and vegetables.
Supporting local farmers and food purveyors supports the environment.
Less pollution and lower carbon footprint
As I noted above, local food travels a shorter distance to markets and stores than products that come from other areas. Thus, their transport usually contributes to less pollution and fewer carbon emissions than foods that necessitate longer trips.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), there’s no standardized distance that characterizes foods as local. Instead, stores typically use a set distance or state boundary to make this distinction (4).
Some local foods may come from a farmer or purveyor right down your street, while other local items may be grown 100 miles away. Still, this is a lot closer than a farm thousands of miles away or in a different country.
Less waste and plastic packaging
A lot of local foods, especially produce, are sold at farm stands without packaging. Plus, you can bring your own reusable bags to carry the items home. This equates to less waste, particularly of plastic packaging and plastic bags.
Finally, supporting local farmers helps maintain green spaces and farmland in your area. Local farms that use sustainable practices may boost biodiversity, protect pollinators that are vital to healthy ecosystems, and promote clean air, water, and soil (6).
Local foods yield less pollution and waste due to their minimal — or complete lack of — packaging, processing, and transportation. Supporting local farmers who implement sustainable techniques also benefits the environment.
When you buy local food, your money is likely to continue to circulate within the local economy.
Some studies suggest that local food has a multiplier effect, meaning it contributes to increased employment and income in a community, among other positive effects (7).
For the same reason that a stimulus package boosts a national economy, spending money in your community may boost the local economy.
Local businesses not only provide jobs for community members but also their owners and employees are more likely to cycle their incomes back into other local stores and institutions — further reinforcing the regional economy (8).
Money spent on local foods continues to circulate in your regional economy, supporting local jobs and strong communities.
One of my favorite things about buying local food is making connections with farms and food producers.
Building relationships with those who grow your food is a great way to build community. At the same time, you can ask questions and learn about farming practices. Such connections may help you develop a deeper appreciation for your food.
Personally, I feel more satisfied and mindful when I have a connection to the food that I eat. Just like using a favorite family recipe, enjoying local food can evoke positive emotions and boost your spirits.
Purchasing food directly from farmers and purveyors gives you the opportunity to learn more about farming practices and develop connections to your food.
If you’re interested in eating more local food, you’ll be glad to hear that it’s easy to do.
Here are some of the best ways to get started eating local:
- Head to your local farmers market.
- Become a member at a local food co-op.
- Sign up for a CSA share.
- Dine at farm-to-table eateries in your area, some of which may even have a CSA or farm stand connected to the restaurant.
- Browse the produce section, or check with the produce manager, at your grocery store to see whether they identify local foods. Some may add labels to local products.
If you want to eat local foods, check out farmers markets, co-ops, or farm-to-table restaurants in your area.
Eating local doesn’t just benefit your health and the farmers in your community. It also has a host of positive economic, social, and environmental effects.
Local foods tend to taste fresher, have more nutrients, and use less packaging. Supporting local food businesses leads to strong local economies.
If you’re interested in reaping these benefits, start looking for farmers markets or CSAs that service your area.