Buying local: good for you, good for the environment

You know, there are plenty of food trends that come and go. But this notion of mass produced food bathed in chemicals, shipped thousands of miles, refrigerated, sprayed to sit on shelves longer, waxed, polished, packaged, labelled, housed in airconditioned warehouses, transported to a local foreign-owned grocery store and then transported by you to your home – well that’s a trend I hope does more going than coming.

The notion of buying local has grown in recent years. It’s been helped along by a resurgence of community gardens, farmers’ markets, food buying cooperatives and organic delivery services.

It’s no wonder. There’s evidence that diet impacts on a massive range of health issues – everything from dementia to autism, asthma and allergies. And when you buy local, you’re ensuring you get fresher food, that’s been picked recently, exposed to less environmental toxins, handled by fewer people and grown according to season – which in turn means less chemical fertilisers, pesticides and preservers.

But there’s a bunch of other reasons why buying local is good for you and good for the planet:

  1. Connects you to the environment – when you buy local, you buy seasonal produce which means you are instantly building an understanding of what grows when (knowledge you can easily transfer to your own garden). But you’re also connecting with farmers and the environmental issues they have to contend with. You know when the weather’s been bad, you know when we haven’t had enough rain, and now you know why the avocados grown locally aren’t as sweet / green / creamy as they usually are.
  2. Build local economies – supporting local farms means keeping money in the local economy. Building local economies has massive flow-on effects for employment, health, education and wellbeing.
  3. Cuts out the middle man – When local farmers sell directly to buyers they can charge the retail price for their produce, earning more in the dollar than they would if selling to wholesale buyers. That in turn means more farmers staying on their properties, with more income to be innovative.
  4. Ensures more open space – when farmers stay on their farms, there’s less blocks being carved up for development, which means more green belts for our cities, more open space, and in turn better connected and more diverse plant and animal communities.
  5. Boosts nutrition – fresh fruits and vegetables lose nutrition quickly when transported. When you buy local, the produce has probably been harvested within days of buying which means it’s fresher and better for you.
  6. Saves energy – when you guy local you conserve the massive amounts of energy used in both packaging and shipping food. The grapes you buy in winter have come from the USA – imagine the energy required to grow those grapes, fertilise and protect them from pests, package them, ship them to Australia, refrigerate them, transport them to 1000 foreign-owned grocery stores and keep them fresh for months.
  7. Encourages the best possible farming practice – when a farmer is selling food to his neighbours and the extended community in which she lives, she’s encouraged to use the best possible farming practices she can. It’s likely that you’ve driven past the banana farm you buy bananas from and your farmer knows that. When you are selling directly to consumers, you can’t hide behind a mass-marketed product, you are your own best salesperson.
  8. Builds community – one of the things I love about shopping at farmers’ markets is talking to the farmer. Hearing the stories about the current harvest, learning more about the fruits or vegetables they’re selling and generally getting to know more about what they do.

Finally, I believe local food tastes better.

OK, I haven’t actually found any scientific evidence for this, but buying local food somehow sits in my mouth longer. I appreciate both the labours of the farmer and my own labours finding the freshest, most local produce I can. I don’t waste as much because it’s precious to me and I talk about it all the time.

Next time you’re shopping for food, check the label or ask someone where it came from. You’ll be surprised how far your food has travelled and how much it’s been handled before it gets to your plate.

It’s such a small thing, but it makes a big impact on you and on the environment.


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