There are many benefits to eating locally grown food

Published 9:49 am Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Dan Matz, Market Notes

There is a lot to be said for eating local. The pineapple in Hawaii, oranges in Florida, just tastes better there. It might be the same pineapple we have shipped here, but just doesn’t taste the same. We still eat them because there aren’t too many orange trees or pineapple plants here, but in the process they have lost some taste.

Our ancestors didn’t have the luxury of shopping in supermarkets where the shelves are stocked with produce from all over the world. Today’s consumer can purchase strawberries in November and sweet corn in February. We can satisfy our food craving simply by visiting the grocery store. But as consumers of today are becoming interested in healthy eating and enjoying the fresh taste that local produce offers, the new trend of eating seasonably is catching on.

Dan Matz

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Back in the day, eating seasonably was a way of life, and local produce was the norm. Providing and developing produce for nutrition and good taste was the driving force behind what to plant or grow. Freshness equals better taste. Products that are consumed right after harvest will be at the peek for flavor. Vegetables lose nutritional value every day past harvest.

Compared to today where large scale farms and the food pipeline need to have varieties developed for being able to be marketed thousands of miles away, the large-scale farm operations of today must adhere to growing varieties of produce that can be harvested by machines and be shipped from the farm where it is harvested to stores thousands of miles away. In this type of monoculture environment the focus shifts away from growing produce for nutrition and taste to adding other criteria in the selection process. Developing pesticides and herbicides to combat pests and diseases that feed off the single crop. Where the focus for a large area is one crop, pests and diseases thrive and develop to feed off the crop. As a result, technology is continually advancing to develop stronger herbicides and pesticides to fight off these conditions. As new chemicals are developed and put into use, weeds and pests adapt and change, resulting in a continuing cycle to accommodate the monoculture system. The harvest needs to be coordinated with shipping and storage time, so the crop won’t spoil in transit. Also the crop needs to be uniform to adapt to the harvesting methods as well as marketability. The producer needs to consider all these things when planting crops on a large scale.

Eating local and seasonable seems to be catching on. Grocery stores and the large “buy everything in one place” stores are now starting to reserve some space for locally grown vegetables, meat, etc. Even though the trend for the large stores is to have suppliers that can supply the huge amounts needed, having a locally grown area opens the door for smaller producers, that can offer a closer-to-home product. There seems to be enough demand to offer this.

Eating seasonably means just that, depending on the time of year, consumers eat what is being harvested at the time. Right now sweet corn is definitely in season. It seems that consumers are seeking out their favorite varities and buying from farmers and road-side stands because now sweet corn is at its tastiest peak, and it is purchased the day it is picked.

For some people, taste and nutrition is enough, but for the “greener” consumer purchasing local saves on the environment. When the grower’s priority is taste and nutrition than the concern for shipping, shelf life, further processing, refrigeration, and doctoring to make aged products look more appealing is gone, or way down on the need to do list. In turn this one step if acted on by the local people could save the environment an enormous amount of fossil fuels, and environmental hazards.

Eating local boosts the economy by keeping dollars in the community. Helping the growers allows them to help you by also purchasing local. It’s a nice circle that needs to be in balance to work.

There are times when we need to purchase products out of season — lettuce in January for example — but when the choice is there why purchase something that was produced 1,500 miles away.

I have heard of the “eat local challenge,” where the idea is to only eat food grown within 100 miles from where you live. Participants are encouraged to try one new fruit or vegetable each day and also to freeze or preserve the local produce to store for later in the year. Sounds a lot like what some of us are doing now or what our parents and grandparents did as a way of life.

Dan Matz is a member of the Albert Lea Farmers Market.