I’ve heard it said many times: “buying local produce reduces your carbon footprint.” But I was so busy with my own life and survival, I didn’t take time really think about it much…until one day I decided to find out what this phrase meant, and why it was so prolific.
So these are some questions I asked myself–and that you may have asked yourself–and the answers that I’ve found.
“What’s all this ‘buy local produce’ and ‘carbon footprint’ hype about anyway?”
Locally grown food travels less distance, and thus, less carbon dioxide (CO2) is emitted into the atmosphere. The farther away your food is grown, then the farther it has to travel to get to you, and the more CO2 is released into the atmosphere via the internal combustion engines of cars, trains, trucks, planes, and worse–cargo ships.
“So what does ‘buy local produce’ mean?”
To me, buying local produce means buying produce that’s grown in my own country, at the very least. And I sometimes will choose an apple that’s grown in a neighboring state, rather than one grown on the other side of the country. But to some people, it means they only buy organic fruits and vegetables from local farms, or they won’t buy anything that’s grown more than 200 miles away from where they live. It just depends on one’s own personal preference and ideologies.
“Should I only buy produce that’s in season?”
Some people think that, but it is possible to eat fruits out of season and still buy “local” nowadays. For one, it is now getting easier to see where the frozen fruits and vegetables in your local grocer’s freezers are produced. Plus, there’s also the option of buying local fresh produce when it’s in season, and freezing or canning it yourself so you can enjoy it later.
Yet even if someone doesn’t care about the environment, or doesn’t believe it’s as bad as thousands of scientists say it is… There are still many other good reasons to buy local produce, such as:
1 Support the Local Economy
When you buy local produce, you are directly supporting the local economy (‘local’ meaning your country, your state, your region, your town, or yourself). You’re pumping cash straight into the pockets of your local neighbors or citizens of your region; and they, in turn, are able to pump that cash back into the local economy.
The closer it’s grown to you, the fresher it is. And of course, the fresher the produce, the better it tastes. Since farmers often harvest their crops before they’re fully ripe, and then refrigerate them so that they don’t go bad during transportation, such produce often does not fully ripen to its full flavor as it would if it had ripened naturally. Produce loses it’s flavor and freshness at each step: during refrigeration, during shipping, and while held in warehouses along the distribution chain.
Produce loses nutritional value for the same reasons it loses it’s full flavor. When farmers harvest early, then those vegetables or fruits don’t have as many nutrients as they would if they had been allowed to fully ripen naturally. Plus, the further your produce has to travel to get to you, the more likely the farmers will have used irradiation, preservatives, and other chemicals to kill germs and bacteria growth, or to just make the produce look nicer, such as wax coatings. Many countries currently allow farmers to use herbicides and pesticides on their crops which are otherwise banned elsewhere…chemicals that were banned due to their harmful effects on one’s health and the environment. But then those chemicals, which your own country may prohibit, are imported on your food and set on your table.
4 Lower Cost
You can save money if you do choose to buy in-season, locally grown produce. In season produce is often being harvested in abundance at the same time in your nearby region. This means there’s a surplus, and thus, the cost goes down. Many people buy in season produce and then freeze it or can it for a later date, as well.
If you decide to just eat produce that’s in-season, you can anticipate a different set of foods being in season at any given time. And you will always be pleasantly excited when the harvesting season for your favorite berry or legume comes along. You may not always get to eat any food you want at any time of year, but you’ll always have a wide variety of produce throughout the year…and you may appreciate those fruits and vegetables all the more when they do come into season. This is true even if you freeze local produce during it’s peak, because not all produce can be frozen, or can’t stay frozen for too many months.
6 Smaller Carbon Footprint
The farther away your food is grown from you, the more CO2 is spewed into the atmosphere through the vehicles used to carry your food to you. Excessive CO2 is destroying the earth’s ozone, which protects us from the sun’s harmful rays. It is also causing oxygen in our oceans to become depleted because the oceans absorb some of the CO2, and that CO2 is killing off oxygen in the water. This in turn is destroying aquatic life that depends on a certain level of oxygen.
Where to find local produce:
- at the local grocery store (produce is labeled to show where its grown, and some grocers advertise local produce)
- natural, whole food markets or organic food stores
- a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture farm shares program)
- farmer’s markets and food stands
- grow your own food
Buying local fruits and vegetables, which isn’t really even a major action, but a choice, will help the Earth tremendously. You don’t have to do anything. just make the choice to buy local produce while you’re out shopping for fruits and vegetables. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to see it takes little to no effort–only thought, really.
But buying and eating local produce doesn’t require an all or nothing attitude. Being green is about being practical, not being perfect. You don’t have to buy only local produce religiously, all the time. Buy whatever amount or variety of local produce fits your lifestyle, and makes sense for you and your family. Go ahead and indulge in that favorite meal you’ve been craving, even if the ingredients are out of season. But do take the leap and start to buy local produce on an occasional, if not a semi-regular basis.
Not only will buying local produce greatly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into our atmosphere, but it will also let you feel good about yourself because you’re part of the solution, and not a part of the problem. This one, simple decision is a huge step in the right direction–and that’s something your great-great-grandchildren or grand-nieces and -nephews can write home about.