The Benefits of Eating Locally
This is the best time of the year for eating locally. We live in a food rich area with many local farms providing us with fresh fruits and vegetables.
Here we are at the start of the summer growing season here in Ontario. Soon local farmers markets and roadside produce booths will be chock-a-block with the gorgeous offerings of mother nature - fresh and flavourful fruits and vegetables! Of course, it is 2017 and we live in a time where we can experience the flavours and textures of foods from all over the globe, often without needing to leave our own home town. Modern transportation and global trade has put not only exotic foods at our fingertips, but also foods that are out-of-season like berries and tomatoes during the long and dark months of winter. What a wonderful thing! Or is it?
In Canada we have a relatively short growing season compared to warmer countries. This means that certain food items that do not store well for long periods of time need to be brought in from either the US, Mexico or other more tropical countries. Unfortunately, transportation comes at a cost to not only our wallets but also to our health.
The Solution: Eat Locally
The closer we are to our food producers, the better off we are. Let's take a look at all of the wonderful reason to buy locally grown food:
- Locally grown food is full of flavour. Ever wonder why those tomatoes or strawberries you buy in February have no flavour and come with a texture that can best be described as "cardboard"? When grown locally, crops are allowed to mature on the vine and are picked at their peak of ripeness whereas crops brought in from other countries are harvested early in order to be shipped and distributed to your local retail store. Often times produce at local markets has been picked within 24 hours of your purchase so you are blessed with the gorgeous explosion of flavour that it has to offer.
- Eating local food is eating seasonally. Before global transportation was as speedy and commonplace as it is today, eating seasonally and locally were just things everyone did. Even though we wish strawberries and other fruits and vegetables were grown year round in Ontario, the best time to eat them is when they can be purchased directly from a local grower. Many health experts (including myself) often advise on eating seasonally which simply means including foods in the diet that are grown at the same time of year that you eat them. Eating seasonally not only benefits local farmers who most often practice more sustainable growing practices, but it also benefits your health (see point #3 to follow), and your wallet
- Local food has more nutrients. Local food has a shorter time between harvest and your table and, as a result, retains its nutrient value. Food imported from far-away states and countries is picked before it has had a chance to ripen and generate all of its beautiful and health promoting nutrients. It is often older, has traveled great distances and sits in distribution centers before it gets to your store. Moreover, chemicals that prevent the growth of moulds and fungus during shipping, such as pesticides or methyl bromide, a suspected carcinogen, are applied during transit which can be harmful to your health. Additional chemicals are applied to some fruits and vegetables to speed their ripening as they get closer to their final destination in order to make them more appealing for consumers.
- Local food supports the local economy. The money that is spent with local farmers and growers all stays close to home and is reinvested with businesses and services in your community.
- Local food benefits the environment. By purchasing locally grown foods you help maintain farmland and green and/or open space in your community. Additionally, local smaller scale growers often follow more sustainable growing practices and many supply organic options without going through the costly organic certification process.
- Local foods promote a safer food supply. The more steps there are between you and your food’s source the more chances there are for contamination. Food grown in distant locations has the potential for food safety issues at harvesting, washing, shipping and distribution.
- Local growers can tell you how the food was grown. This is my absolute favourite part of eating locally grown food. When shopping at your local farmers market you can ask exactly what practices the farmers use to raise and harvest the crops and, more often than not, they are happy to tell you. When you know where your food comes from and who grew it, you know a lot more about that food and can make truly informed choices.
We are heading into the season of bounty, so get out there and savour all the goodness that our wonderful local farmers have to offer. Your body, your wallet and your environment will thank you!
Jill Taylor, CNP NNCP Certified Holistic Nutritionist Belmont Natural Health Centre