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Three Suprising Benefits of Shopping Local

These three reasons to shop locally for your food could be the most important ones ever. And you probably have no idea what they are.

Organic produce on a farm stand

If I woke up 1,000 people in the middle of the night (sounds like a fun project, actually) and asked them "If you had the chance to eat local food, would you?" I feel confident that the answer would be YES.

The PROBLEM is that it is harder to buy local food than it should be. (Here's a recent article with common challenges AND 6 reasons to shop local.) And GUESS WHAT? When it is hard to find local food to buy then there's probably a glitch in the local marketplace that doesn't accommodate it. Do you see how the problem is multi-pronged? What we want are local food options to choose from.

As a first step, let's discuss the benefits of local food in three ways that I am pretty sure you haven't considered. Then we can focus on the other issues that impact these local food options. Deal?

A semi transporting food across the country

Number 1: Carrot Math

I am pretty sure you recycle. Your neighborhood probably has laws about it. Can you commingle cardboard and plastic? If the cans aren't rinsed out first, will they be rejected? You probably have a blue bin in your house, garage, office or local coffee shop.

When I was growing up this did not exist, at least with such consumer-facing infrastructure. There was no in-home recycling when I was growing up. (I repeat.) But somewhere along the way, recycling happened and flourished. And it's not easy. You have your part to do in your home (someone is always messing up what goes in which bin) and then your municipality has to do their part. Huge centers have been created to sort and do whatever else is needed to make that LeCroix can into another can.

All that means that we could develop new systems for good. Like eating local. It involves a lot less infrastructure than recycling.

Where do the carrots come in? I know. I am getting there. I am going to assume that you believe that recycling the items you use is a good idea for the environment. So you do it. And we made laws to "encourage" you to recycle. And slogans like "reduce, reuse, recycle" to hammer the message home.

What if I told you that you could take one action (carrots) that would be so much easier than recycling and it would have a similar kind of impact on the environment? Ready? Go to the grocery store and pick up the carrots. The ones in the bag. Look at the fine print. Somewhere near the barcode, it says where they came from or where they were packaged. Google how far that town is from where you are.

Local carrots from a farmer's market

Know how far my carrots were from my house? Bakersfield, CA. 2,800 miles. That's about 100 gallons of gas (in a car and these carrots likely arrived in a refrigerated semi), give or take a detour or two. The current national average for a gallon of mid-grade gas is $4.08 so we are out about $400 in gas. Obviously, this is not the true cost of shipping those carrots, but the point is that we are EXPENDING unnecessary fuel to get the carrots from Bakersfield, CA to me in Upstate NY when I could just buy them LOCALLY.

So, buy your carrots locally. Save gas. It's easier than recycling.

a house just sold in a neighborhood near local food

Number 2: Real Estate

Have you ever looked for a house to buy or even to rent? I am thinking yes, even if you haven't bought one yet. You look on Zillow for fun, right? First, you look at the price, then the pictures, and eventually you drill down to the neighborhood. And the schools.

Even if you don't have school-aged children, the GreatSchools rating impacts your property value. If you are in a good school district, cha-ching! It's important when buying and it's definitely important to give you the best price when you are selling your home.

Cocktail party conversation? "Yes, and it's in an excellent school district!" I have heard this since I was a kid. Renting, buying. Buyer, seller. My friend is a real estate agent and it's top 5 in terms of the questions she gets about houses she sells. As a matter of fact, she preempts the question by using the "amazing school district" as a selling point.

Where am I going? Well, a friend of mine who lives in a cute Portland neighborhood with her husband and two dogs recently reported that the farmer's market is coming to her neighborhood. Just a block away. She and her neighbors are all atwitter about it. You roll out of bed, grab a cup of coffee in a ceramic cup from your shelf, froth some milk, grab a reusable bag or three, and head to the farmer's market where you commune with your neighbors and pick up the latest seasonal fruits, organic vegetables, and pasture-raised meats before heading home to vacuum to prepare for guests that evening (where you will brag about your local farmer's market and show off your new recipe!).

Your property value goes up when you are close to valuable local resources. A beautiful park. Good schools. The farmer's market. This is the value of local food.

a farmer spraying pesticides on crops

Number 3: The Dirty Dozen

Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) -- a nonpartisan, non-profit organization founded in 1993 to help you live your healthiest life -- picks up data from the USDA and the FDA on the fruits and veggies produced in the US. The FDA removes the dirt (shake and rinse?) and the USDA washes and scrubs (veggie wash?). Then they test each product and put together a handy-dandy table of which ones show what levels of pesticides and fungicides. Pretty straightforward.

Do you want to comb through those tables of data? No, of course not. So the EWG does it for you. This year the EWG included 46 items in their analysis. These are the 12 fruits and vegetables that were most contaminated with pesticides:

1. Strawberries (always seem to be #1 of the worst)

2. Spinach

3. Kale, collard and mustard greens

4. Grapes

5. Peaches

6. Pears

7. Nectarines

8. Apples

9. Bell and hot peppers

10. Cherries

11. Blueberries

12. Green beans

organic strawberries from a local farmer

So, you have three choices. You can buy these 12 items organically from the supermarket, you can grow them yourself, or you can talk to a local farmer about how they produce theirs and get it from them. That conversation is key. And avoiding these very handily cataloged items that will cause you to ingest icky stuff is much easier if you can talk to a local farmer and get it directly from them with an insurance policy that your food is safe and healthy!

Just in case you needed some additional really good reasons to eat local here they are. And here is how to get started doing just that with some additional reasons to fortify your decision!

One -- reduce the fuel you use to get food to your table.

Two -- improve your real estate value via proximity to local food and farmer's markets. Three -- avoid the Dirty Dozen by talking with a local farmer and getting good clean versions of your very favorites on this sad and maligned list.

xo to you. To your health, to your environment, your community and our collective economy!


Dana DiPrima is the founder of the For Farmers Movement. For Farmers supports American farmers by sharing their stories, replacing myths with facts, and providing them with mini-grants and other helpful resources. Dana is the host of the Talk Farm to Me podcast featuring farmers and farm issue experts from across the country. She authors a weekly letter in addition to this blog. You can subscribe here. And you can join the For Farmers Movement to support your farmers here. You can also follow her on Instagram and Threads.


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