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Local Food

Health and Environmental Benefits of Local Food

Your food choices are a powerful symbol in the struggle to transition to a more sustainable food source. The food choices you make have deep environmental and social impacts within your community and around the world. Buying local food is a very important step in reducing pollution and climate change.

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What Is Local Food?

Local food can be thought of in a few ways. It can not get any more local than your backyard, growing your own garden is the closest form of local food you can have. The next best form of local food would be buying food from local farmer's markets. However you can buy local food at local health food stores and even grocery stores. Local food at these places would be food that is grown within your immediate community, state or even your region. Since you can not always buy everything with in your state or region, buying food that is produced in your own country could still be considered local food. For some parts of the year or for some products that thrive in the local climate, it may be possible to buy closer to home. However at other times, or for less common products, an expanded reach may sometimes be required.

Local Food An easy way to start buying local is to choose one product to focus on such as vegetables. Produce offers a good introduction to eating seasonally and locally and is an excellent way to learn about local agriculture. After you have found the best places to find local produce, you could then try seeking out local sources for meat or dairy.

Local food does not have a set definition, but the basic concept is simple, local foods are produced as close to home as possible. Buying local food supports a more sustainable and environmentally cleaner food system because sustainability goes beyond the methods used to produce food to include every step that brings food from the farm to your plate.

Local Food Tastes Better And Is Better For You

Food grown locally in your own community that you find at a farmer's market or local grocery store is general picked within a day or two which means the food is more fresh. Produce you buy that was flown or trucked in from outside your state or region is much older and not nearly as fresh as locally grown produce. Studies have shown that fresh produce loses nutrients quickly so the further the food has to travel the more nutrients that will be lost from your food. In a week-long (or more) delay from harvest to dinner table when being flown or trucked in, sugars turn to starches, plant cells shrink, and produce loses its vitality.

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Local Food Is Better For The Environment.

Besides local food being a healthier option for you, it is also better for the environment. Buying local food helps keep food miles to a minimum. By "food miles" we are referring to the distance food travels from the farm to your table. The average distance food travels from farm to plate is 1,500 miles when you buy food that is not locally grown. The food miles for items that are not locally grown are on average 27 times higher than the food miles for goods bought from local sources.

Our food is trucked across the country, hauled in freighter ships and flown around the world. All of this leads to a tremendous amount of fossil fuels being burned to transport foods which is releasing carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and other pollutants that contribute to global climate change. About 40% of the fruit we eat is produced overseas, and even a food like broccoli that is grown all over the country, the broccoli we buy at the supermarket travels an average of 1,800 miles to get there. Another problem is the refrigeration required to keep our fruits, vegetables, dairy products and meats from spoiling during their long hauls burns up even more fossil fuel. However the local and regional food systems produce 17 times less CO2 creating much less pollution and offering you fresher more healthy food.

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Difference Between Local And Sustainable Food

Sustainable agriculture involves producing foods that are healthier, do not harm the environment, use humane practice towards animals, provide fair wages to farmers and supports the local farming community. Sustainability also includes buying food that is produced as locally as possible. However buying local food does not always guarantee that it is sustainably produced. Pesticides, chemical fertilizers, factory farming, hormone use, and non-therapeutic use of antibiotics can all be involved in local food production, so it is always important to make sure that the local food you buy is from farmers who use organic or sustainable farming methods.

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What If You Can Not Find Local Food?

Buying local food does not always work for everyone and it may not always be easy to find specific local foods. If products are not available locally or regionally the next best option would to be to find items that are at least produced with in your country. Remember that local food means food produced as close to home as possible.

When shopping for more exotic ingredients or foods that are not produced within your own country be sure to look for products labeled "Fair Trade" or "Rainforest Alliance Certified" to ensure that the food is fairly traded and sustainably grown. To be fair trade certified, products must be grown by small-scale producers who are able organize themselves in either cooperatives or unions. Fair trade products and companies are certified by independent third parties like Trans Fair USA or Fair Trade Labeling Organization International. Companies selling fair trade products have also shown commitment to helping the farmers they work with develop long-term sustainable communities and businesses.

Rainforest Alliance labeling follows standards set by the Sustainable Agriculture Network that are designed to promote tropical conservation. Products with this label are grown with environmentally responsible management practices including integrated pest and disease management, soil and water conservation. This standard also includes requirements for fair labor practices and good community relations. The Rainforest Alliance Certified label standards have been tailored to crops in specific regions. The standards specify that waterways must be protected with buffer zones and monitored for contamination. Workers must be paid minimum wage and have the right to organize.

Both of these labels are third-party certified, which means that independent inspectors ensure farmers' compliance. Since products like coffee and chocolate are difficult to grow in the United States, labels like these can be a good alternative to buying locally.

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Grow your own!

The most satisfying locally grown food is the food your grow yourself, whether it is a small garden in your backyard or a window herb garden, growing your own food is a very rewarding experience. Even if you live in an urban area and do not have anywhere to plant, many places have community gardens that offer plots in exchange for some volunteer time.

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