Seven benefits of local food

Michigan is known for our four-season climate, and we are fortunate to have a wide variety of agricultural products produced in this state.

Michigan is known for our four-season climate, and we are fortunate to have a wide variety of agricultural products produced here. By learning about seasonal eating, food preservation techniques and local marketplaces for fresh food, you can enjoy the bounty of our state’s agriculture.

Having the option to purchase locally grown food has many benefits. Michigan State University Extension suggests the following benefits of buying locally grown food.

Locally grown foods are full of flavor. When grown locally, crops are picked at their peak of ripeness rather than being harvested early in order to be shipped and distributed long distances to your local retail store. This may also mean that farmers can grow varieties that are selected for flavor instead of durability! Many times, produce at local markets has been picked within 24 hours of your purchase.

Eating local food is eating seasonally. Even though we wish strawberries were available year round in Michigan, the best time to eat them is when they can be purchased directly from a local grower. Early summer strawberries are full of flavor and taste better than strawberries available in the winter that have traveled thousands of miles and were picked before they were ripe. Alternatively, preserving products with a short season like strawberries at their peak can allow you to enjoy the flavors of summer even on the coldest days in January.

Local food has more nutrients. Local food has a shorter time between harvest and your table, and therefore it is less likely that the nutrient value has decreased.  Although calories, amino acids and fats are stable over time, vitamins contained in food can breakdown over time when food is stored.

Local food supports the local economy. Money spent with local farmers and growers all stays close to home and can be reinvested with businesses and services in your community. Research of local economic flows has demonstrated that the food system in Michigan contributed $680 million to state earnings in 2011.

Local food benefits the environment. By purchasing locally grown foods you help maintain farmland in your community. When farmers can profit from food production, they are less likely to sell land for development.  You also reduce the environmental impact of shipping food using limited energy resources.

Local foods promote a safe food supply. The more steps there are between you and your food’s source, the more chances there are for contamination. Food grown in distant locations has the potential for food safety issues at harvesting, washing, shipping and distribution. Only when every effort is made, can we be sure that food is safe and traceable to its source in case of an outbreak of food borne illness. 

Local growers can tell you how the food was grown. You can ask what practices they use to raise and harvest the crops. When you know where your food comes from and who grew it, you know a lot more about that food.

As the growing season starts and gets into full swing, you should think about how you can add more locally grown foods to your menus. By doing so you are supporting the many benefits of locally grown food.

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