Support Local Farmers
On Saturday mornings, I shop at a farmers market about a half mile from my house. I buy artisanal cheeses from a dairy in Virginia and fruit and vegetables from growers nearby-apples and pears in the fall, blueberries, strawberries, cherries, and melons in the summer. I can't buy a pineapple or a kiwi whenever I feel like it, but the offerings are fresh picked and taste that way.
Just as important, I have the satisfaction of supporting local growers and helping the environment. The number of family farms in the United States has shrunk by nearly 5 million since 1935, but the number of farmers markets has shot up: 3,706 in 2004, more than twice as many as 10 years before.
Foodies. The increase in farmers markets is helping consumers all over the country discover the flavors of local produce. Along with sales at roadside stands, family farmers sell products through cooperatives and in some chain supermarkets. These farmers are finding supportive shoppers. In 2004, a group of foodies in San Francisco started a group called Locavores (www.locavores.com), dedicated to eating food grown or raised within 100 miles of the Bay Area.
Most supermarket produce travels an average of 1,300 miles from farm to table and can spend seven to 14 days in transit before it even arrives on your supermarket shelf. In contrast, local produce is often sold the day it's picked. By decreasing the distance food travels, you help reduce carbon dioxide emissions from trucking: Tons of fossil fuels are used in transporting food by trucks, ships, and airplanes. Plus, the refrigeration needed to keep food from spoiling before it gets to the store burns energy.
Local produce also bypasses the chemical preservatives often used to extend the shelf life of food in stores. And the packaging for that shelved supermarket produce turns into more waste. Buying food locally provides a double helping of benefits: the flavor of fresh food and the possibility of a cleaner planet.
This story appears in the December 25, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.