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Is Local Produce Better?

posted Oct 9, 2015, 6:28 AM by Julia Quam
Local, seasonal, organic—sometimes it’s hard to keep it all straight. We’ve already covered organic and seasonal produce on this blog, but you may be wondering what “local” actually means and whether it’s any better for you or the environment.

There’s no official definition, but produce that is grown within 100 miles of the person who buys and eats it is generally considered local.

Environmental concerns top the list of why many people try to eat local. It may seem obvious that since locally grown produce travels shorter distances to get to your plate, they require less fuel compared to produce that has to travel from across the country. The less fuel used, the lower the impact on the environment.

However, according to the Worldwatch Institute, if we really want to understand how what we eat impacts the environment, we have to think beyond how far our food travels from the farm to us. We have to consider how that food is transported (for example, long distance trains are often more efficient than short distance trucks) and how it’s grown (for example, open fields use less energy than climate-controlled greenhouses).

How food is grown may be particularly important. According to Columbia University’s Earth Institute, the vast majority of emissions produced in farming occur before the food even leaves the farm.

Whether a particular food is suited to your local climate is also an important consideration. Sometimes it may be more efficient to grow a particular crop in the climate it is best suited to, even if it has to travel a long way to get to your plate.

In short, there’s no easy answer. You can’t assume that buying local produce is always the best choice, but one of the main advantages of buying local is that you can get to know the person who grows your food. If you buy your produce from your local farmer’s market or CSA, you can ask them about the practices they use on their farm and why. This can make it easier to make sure the food you buy is produced in a way that sits well with you.

Buying local is also a great way to support your local economy. You can see first-hand the difference that your food dollars make in your community. Plus, like seasonal  produce, local produce is often tastier since it’s typically fresher and hasn’t had to undergo a long journey to get to your plate. The more delicious your produce is, the more likely you are to eat enough.  

Because of this, we think it’s well worth trying to incorporate some local produce into your diet. Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore where to find local, seasonal produce and how to prepare it to maximize its flavor.