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By Kate Bogli
You know it’s “cool” to eat local—to call yourself a locavore, wear a man-bun and grind your own fair trade coffee. You feel good about yourself because your banana farmer in South America is getting paid a fair wage and you know the names of your local farmer’s kids. But really. What’s in it for you to shop local? I mean, it’s expensive and it’s time consuming, right? Maybe not so much when you consider the whole picture.
TRUST. Do you want to know how your food is produced? Looking into the eyes of the person who made it means a lot more than any certification from the U.S. government. We’re taking other countries at their word when they put it on their label. Your local farmer eats what she produces, feeds it to her family, hosts friends with that food and sells it in the community in which he lives, where his children go to school, where their family goes to church and where her family has lived for generations. There’s no higher stakes at getting something right than that.
LAND PRESERVATION. Farms are a great deal for a local tax base. For every dollar in taxes that a Connecticut farm pays, they only use $0.31 in services. That’s land preservation at its very cheapest. By supporting your local farm, you are saving on your taxes! To maintain a rural feel to your town, the public must support local agriculture. You won’t be driving by a hay field if you don’t buy the local farmer’s beef. You won’t enjoy vistas of tomato fields if you don’t join your local CSA. Farms are businesses and they need customers to stay solvent.
CONVENIENCE. It may not seem like it’s convenient to stop at a couple of farms on your way home from work, or on Saturday morning, or with the kids in the back seat, but give it a try. You might find out it’s even more convenient than the local big box shop. I mean—you can’t exactly leave your kids in the car while you go into the grocery store, but you might be able to park right outside a small farm store while the kids watch the cows from the comfort of their car seats. You might find that one of your favorite farm stores sells a little bit of everything—meat and veggies from their farm, plus milk and cheese from a neighbor farm. Making a new routine can be a challenge, but you may find out it’s actually easier in the end.
VALUE. If you compare, dollar for dollar, locally produced food, you might find that the local stuff seems more expensive. But many times it’s not. Be careful about how you compare. Don’t compare a pound of pasture-raised beef from your local farmer to the stuff on sale in the big box that came from who-knows-where and was made from animals that lived who-knows-how. Compare apples to apples (pun intended) when you shop. Are items advertised with their price per pound, or priced per item? Many times the price per pound is quite similar. When you shop local, 100 percent of your money stays in your community—double that of when you shop in a big box.
EDUCATION. Never heard of kohlrabi? Don’t know how to cook a beef shank? Your local farmer will help you! Check out the farm website, or CSA emails for recipes and directions. Show up to Open Farm days and ask questions of your farmer. Bring your kids and let them “meet their meat” and pick their own berries. It’s important to know that pork chops come from a pig and that blackberries grow on thorny canes. It’s only then that we have a true appreciation for our food. It should matter how the pig was raised before you put a piece of bacon on your plate. It’s only when you walk out into a field that you understand how little of the broccoli plant is the crown part. Understanding provides motivation not to waste. It’s what makes you want to use the leftover bacon in a frittata the next day and chop up the broccoli stems for your stir-fry. That is the little bit that each one of us can do to make our earth a better place to live.
HEALTH. Americans suffer unnecessarily from diet-related disease and chronic illness including diabetes, heart disease, and even some cancers. We struggle to find the “perfect” diet—Paleo? Mediterranean? Atkins? Vegan? What’s at the root of all these diets is that they all put an emphasis on eating real food. Shopping local means eating real food. Not stuff that comes out of a package. And everyone from the Surgeon General to Dr. Oz agrees that the path to health is not paved with processed food. Fruits and vegetables, high quality meat and dairy (along with plenty of movement) are the backbone to healthy living. The health of you and your family are affected by the food you choose to buy. You are making healthcare decisions three times per day.
So, what’s in it for you? A lot.