Ah, summer is fast approaching, marked by the arrival of fresh, local produce! Farmers markets are in full swing and when it comes to taste and nutrition, nothing beats fresh, local foods. Local foods are foods and beverages grown or produced within a certain radius such as 50, 100, or 150 miles away. They can also be described as “community-based agriculture” and include farmers markets, community gardens, food co-ops and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
During the 20th century, the United States saw a huge shift in how food was grown and distributed. Family farms began to give way to corporate farms where producers and consumers are separated through a chain of processors/manufacturers, shippers and retailers. With an increase in industrial food systems, the control of quality is increasingly decided by middlemen and less by the farmer and consumer. If you’ve ever had a large, shiny, totally tasteless apple, you know what I mean. It looks great on the shelf, but taste and nutrition have suffered.
Steadily, the local foods movement has been quietly growing, bringing awareness to consumers about where and how their food is grown and distributed. This awareness brings a collaborative effort to build more locally based, self-reliant food systems. Food grown and produced locally positively affects local economy (dollars start in and stay in the community), the environment (soil, watershed, sustainable farming practices) and ultimately the health of those who consume it.
Food quality and taste are far superior in local foods because food is fresh, picked at the peak of ripeness (not weeks before to allow for travel) and eaten within hours or days of harvest. The need for chemical preservatives and irradiation to artificially extend shelf life is reduced or eliminated. Although true effects of processing, preservatives and irradiation on nutrient and enzyme content are much debated, common sense tells us that food closest to the way it’s been consumed by humans for centuries is truly the most healthy and beneficial.
There are many places to find your own communities’ local food networks, such as Thrive Oregon. Another resource is the annual Rogue Flavor Guide, a magazine created by Thrive (The Rogue Initiative for a Vital Economy) and features local ranchers, growers, artisan food and beverage producers. You can pick up a copy at many local businesses (small grocers, restaurants and wineries or call the Thrive office at 541.488.7272.)
For truly local food, try out your own green thumb. It’s easier than you think to have a small garden. The National Gardening Association reports that 7 million U.S. households will plant a garden this year (up almost 20% from last year). The savings on grocery bills is amazing with your own garden, too. No matter how you slice it, fresh local foods make sense for health, nutrition and the economy.
By Julie Kokinakes Anderson, RD, LD
Julie is a registered dietitian in private practice in Southern Oregon
Nutrition Solutions by Julie, LLC