There was a time in our recent history when questioning where your food came from would have been ridiculous. Everything was grown locally (or at least regionally), and rhythm of life revolved around food.
Well, all this has changed. It's estimated that food travels an average of 1500 miles to get to your grocery store. That's a 22% increase in the distance traveled in the last 25 years, according to the Worldwatch Institute. And it may get worse. In our globalized economy, food is now being shipped all over. The United States is importing more than just toys and clothes from China these days soon you may see the "Made in China" label on your broccoli and tomatoes as well! So what's the problem? The quality of the food and the true cost of producing and shipping the food is masked in trade. The sacrifice is our local farmers, big and small, and our local economies.
But there are people around the country who are striking back. They call themselves locavores: people who do their best to eat only foods that were grown or raised within a 100-mile radius of home. In August 2006, a locavore challenge was launched as an educational and promotional campaign. Some participants vowed to eat 100 percent locally, while others made less stringent commitments.
One way to ensure you're eating locally is to grow much of your own food. During National Garden Month 2007, we ask everyone to consider the food purchases they make and to become more committed to eating locally, at least during the summer. Grow a garden; buy local produce from farmer's markets, farm stands and CSA's; and support restaurants and stores selling locally produced vegetables, fruit, meat, and dairy. Put the money back into your neighbors' pockets, and quality food back on your table.
Global warming is the environmental issue of the 21st century, and many people are beginning to look at ways to reduce their "carbon footprint." One major way to live more lightly is to practice more localvore habits. While much of the food we purchase at supermarkets grown on large, monoculture farms, the real energy output lies in the transportation of that food to our local stores, so eating locally consumes less fossil fuels. In fact, an Iowa study found that a regional diet consumed 17 times less oil and gas than a typical diet based on food shipped across the country.
Local foods are generally of better quality than that shipped from afar. As every gardener knows, there's nothing like eating a freshly picked vine-ripened tomato. Local foods are fresher, and fresher foods contain higher levels of nutrients. And seasonal variety of regional foods is often greater than what you'll find in the supermarket.
You can also get to know who is growing and raising your food and what they value. You can discuss other food issues with them, such as the use of genetically modified seeds and pesticides. And if you're wondering how those free-range chickens are really raised, you can go take a look!
Cornell University in Ithaca, New York has decided to support regional farmers and locavores by committing to purchasing 30 percent of their food locally. In 2005 they managed to spend 23 percent of their $9 million food budget close to home, pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars back into the community's economy!
Buying and eating locally grown and raised foods has a multiplier effect on your community. When you buy food from the grocery store, the farmer gets just 3.5 cents of every dollar. Most goes to marketers, middlemen, and processors. According to Oxfam, for every dollar spent with a local farmer, $3 goes back into the neighborhood as farmers buy their supplies from local businesses, pay local workers, and are able to reside and participate in the local community.
Being a locavore means eating better. Locavores tune into the seasons by eating what's freshly harvested, be it strawberries in June or apples in September. Sure, cherries in January look tempting, but when you consider what it cost to ship them from New Zealand, and the lack of flavor and freshness, the local apple sounds (and tastes!) a lot better.
Eating locally usually means slowing down, making food from scratch, and taking time to talk with whoever you're eating with. It speaks to a more relaxing lifestyle. Being a locavore is about valuing where you live.
To find out about becoming a locavore, visit our NGM partner, Local Harvest (www.localharvest.org).