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The Benefits of Buy Local Programs and Benefits of Farmers Markets

written by: Terrie Schultz•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 3/2/2010

Are you interested in eating locally grown foods that are always fresh and healthy? Are you interested in becoming a locavore? Here we will take a look at the many health and environmental benefits of purchasing produce from buy local programs and farmers markets.

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    What is a Locavore?

    Locavore, chosen by the New Oxford American Dictionary as the word of the year for 2007, means someone who chooses to eat foods grown within a 100-mile radius of where he or she lives. While eating a diet consisting entirely of locally grown foods may not be feasible for everyone, there are simple ways to increase the amount of local foods we eat, and reap the benefits of buying locally. Two of the best sources of locally grown foods are buy local programs such as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and farmers markets. The benefits of buy local programs and farmers markets include both health and environmental advantages.

    Farmers markets are often held several times a week during the spring, summer, and fall, and offer a multitude of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as other local products such as nuts, honey, jams, jellies, breads, and flowers grown by local farmers.

    Buy local programs such as CSA are an affordable and convenient way for consumers to enjoy a varied selection of fresh produce on a regular basis, while supporting local farmers and growers.

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    Health Benefits of Buying Local Foods

    Fruits and vegetables harvested and consumed at the peak of ripeness provide the maximum amount of nutritional value. Many vitamins and other nutrients such as phytochemicals are unstable and will deteriorate with time after picking due to exposure to air, light and fluctuating temperatures. Produce sold by large grocery chains is often shipped long distances and may have spent days or weeks in transit, not to mention the time it spends in the store before it is purchased. The nutritional value of such produce is greatly reduced by the time it reaches the table.

    Some fruits and vegetables are picked while still green and unripe to prevent crushing during transport, and will never properly ripen. Purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables from CSA or local farmers markets ensures consumers that the produce was picked when ripe, is as fresh as possible, and contains the maximum nutritional value.

    Buying fresher produce means that it will also last longer after it is brought home. Often fruit such as strawberries purchased at the supermarket will become moldy almost immediately and have to be discarded. Purchasing locally grown fruit reduces waste and saves money in the long run.

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    Environmental Benefits of Buying Local Foods

    There are numerous environmental benefits to buy local programs and farmers markets. One obvious environmental benefit is saving fuel and decreasing carbon emissions by the food industry into the air by eliminating the necessity of trucking produce long distances.

    Industrial agriculture is a major source of water pollution. Runoff of chemical fertilizers, animal waste and pesticides contaminates lakes and streams. Excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water can cause algal blooms and result in ocean dead zones such as the one in the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, industrial farms use huge amounts of water. Buying from local small farms that practice sustainable, responsible use of water and fertilizer helps to protect the environment.

    Another environmental advantage of buying locally grown food is that it requires much less packaging. Commercial food that is shipped long distances often needs to be wrapped to protect it during transport. Some stores also use plastic wrap, styrofoam, and other largely unrecyclable materials to package the food. Produce purchased from farmers markets or CSA programs generally uses little, if any, packaging and so does not contribute to waste.

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    Resources

    Sustainable Table www.sustainabletable.org

    USDA National Agricultural Library www.nal.usda.gov