|Homegrown pears from the author’s backyard.|
Have you heard the term “locavore?” In 2007, the New Oxford Dictionary named it the Word of the Year. A locavore is someone who eats food grown or produced locally — within a certain radius (a county, a region or a certain number of miles). Being a locavore may seem sensible for someone who lives in California, for example, or another place where food is grown year-round. But around here? Is it even possible?
It is surprisingly easy to find locally-grown food here in Southeastern Massachusetts. There are a number of farms, orchards, and cranberry bogs right in our back yard; the popularity of farmers’ markets is on the rise; and we can purchase local produce, eggs, milk, bread, meat and plenty more at farm stands, Pick Your Own venues, and specialty stores. Plus a number of area chefs are seeking out local foods for their restaurant tables.
The following are some reasons to consider adding more local foods to your diet.
It’s Fresher, It Tastes Better, and It’s Better for You.
Locally grown produce doesn’t have to cross the country by plane or truck, or sit in cold storage for days. Most often it is picked within 24 hours of when it is sold to you, which is significantly shorter than what you’ll find in the average grocery store. Because local food doesn’t have to travel as far, it can be harvested at its peak. Produce from farther away has to be picked sooner and less ripe in order to survive the journey across the country – or around the world. (Compare the flavor of a freshly picked local apple to one flown in from New Zealand.)
Locally-grown food is better for you too. According to the FDA, some of the vitamins in fresh produce are depleted 50% or more within a week or two of being harvested. So if you choose a local tomato, you’re getting significantly more nutritional value from it.
You’re also lessening the risk of contamination. When you buy local, your food travels a much shorter route from the farm to the table. Thus it’s easier to track potential problems. You may even be able to talk with the farmer who grew it. This is especially relevant in light of the many food recalls we’ve seen of late.
It’s better for the local economy.
Buying local helps keep money in our communities. When you buy lettuce grown nearby, your money goes right back into the local economy, supporting the value of our real estate, the maintenance of infrastructure like roads and bridges, the quality of our schools. It can even help to enliven downtrodden areas.
Buying local supports our communities, but even more, it supports our farmers. Nationwide, farmers on average receive only 20 cents of each food dollar – the rest covers costs like transportation, processing, packaging, refrigeration and marketing. But if they sell directly to the consumer, they receive much more. Why should we support local farmers? For one, farms provide jobs. Furthermore, the taxes towns collect from agricultural development actually earn communities 70 cents on the dollar. Compare that to residential development, which costs a community $1.25 per dollar earned. When we support farmers, it gives them an economic incentive against selling their land to the highest bidder, which in turn helps us to preserve open space.
It’s better for the environment.
According to Rich Pirog of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, the average fresh food item on our dinner table travels 1500 miles to get there. Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and other best-selling books on food, elaborates on this point. “It takes seven to ten calories of fossil fuel energy to deliver one calorie of food energy to an American plate,” he writes. “Only a fifth (of that energy) . . . is consumed on the farm; the rest is spent processing the food and moving it around.”
It’s Social – and you can learn something.
Buying local helps to build community. Going to the farm stand and chatting with the grower, or running into a friend at the farmers’ market . . . we’re creating social ties that only strengthen our communities
Plus, buying local might encourage you to try something new. At the farm stand, you may find an item you haven’t tried before – squash flowers or mustard greens, bite-size plums or purslane. Local growers may offer more variety too – they are often willing to try out a new type of lettuce, for example, when a grocery store won’t because the demand isn’t there.
It can save you money.
Because costs such as cross-country transportation are not a factor, local food is often less expensive than what you find in the supermarket. You are eliminating the middle man. Blueberries at Tree Berry farm in Norwell last summer were $2.60 per pound to pick your own. They averaged around $2.99 per pint at the grocery store.
Can we do it year-round?
One of the major challenges of eating local is what to do in the winter when nothing much grows here. The first step is to buy extra when a certain food is in season. You can freeze strawberries, or make jam. You can turn an abundance of tomatoes into sauces and salsas. You can make pesto or pickles or fruit leather and stock it all away for the colder months. If you’re not adept in the kitchen, you can look to local producers of such products.
Another important consideration is simply to be conscious about the foods you choose. Can you hold off on apples from New Zealand next summer and wait for the local ones to come through in September?
Where To Find It
In the summer and fall, local foods are available nearly everywhere. Most towns host at least one farm stand, and Pick Your Own berry farms and orchards are scattered throughout the region. Even a standard supermarket stocks some locally grown produce in July and August.
In 2008 there were ten weekly farmers’ markets in Plymouth County and thirteen in Bristol County. What could you find there? Fresh-picked produce to be sure, but also eggs, baked goods, homemade condiments, seedlings, even lobster. Many area stores stock locally-grown or produced foods as well. Check out Good Health Natural Foods in Hanover and Quincy; Whole Foods Market in Hingham; and the Fruit Center Marketplace in Milton and Hingham, to name only a few. In addition, restaurants from the tiny Rockin’ K Café´ in Bridgewater to the renowned Tosca in Hingham feature locally-grown foods on their menus.
Two excellent resources for finding locavore fare are edible South Shore magazine, published quarterly in Kingston, MA; and the Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership’s (SEMAP) Online Farm Guide, where you can search an immense database of growers to find farmers markets, farm stands, and other local food purveyors near you. Check it out at www.farmfresh.org. And save the date of September 28, 2009 for NSRWA’s Food For Thought event at the Mill Wharf Restaurant, which features locally grown and prepared foods from numerous South Shore growers, chefs and caterers.
By Kezia Bacon-Bernstein, Correspondent
Kezia Bacon-Bernstein’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. To browse 13 years of Nature (Human and Otherwise) columns, visit http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com.