According to the US Department of Agriculture, consumers need to make half their plate fruits and vegetables. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables is an essential part of our daily diet and overall weight management. Many people are now choosing locally grown when shopping for produce. Buying locally grown food is not only good for the environment, it is also fruitful for the economy and your health.
The key word in describing the health benefit of locally grown is “fresh.” Since the produce is local, it is fresher than produce that has been shipped from other countries. Fresher produce means its more flavorful and more nutritious. Fruits and vegetables lose their optimal nutritional value as soon as they are picked. When picked, Vitamins such as A, C, E and some B vitamins begin to deteriorate and thus decrease.
Other factors such as the exposure to air, artificial lights and temperature changes can contribute to the decrease in nutritional value. Since manufacturers want the food to look fresh and ripe, produce that travels far to get to a neighborhood supermarket is often sprayed with plant hormones to speed up ripening. Since the ripening occurs so quickly, the plant can’t accumulate as many nutrients and as much flavor as it would if it slowly ripened on its own. According to the National Resources Defense Council, most produce grown in the United States travels an average of 1,500 miles before it gets sold.
The longer food sits, the more it decreases in nutritional value. That is not to say that you do not get any benefits from eating produce even if it was picked a week or two ago. It just won’t be as optimally rich as when first picked. The closer we eat to the source and the less processing and shipping, the more nutritional value we can access.
Another health benefit of buying locally grown is that you are getting produce at its peak state. Local farms can allow their fruits and vegetables to ripen longer or even fully ripen, which also adds to nutrition. Organic farmers also tend to use fewer chemicals than larger commercial farms. This means the food can be more delicious and contain a higher nutritional value.
Eating local foods gives you a greater variety as well. A farmer who is not concerned with shipping foods, shelf life or supermarket demands for ‘name brands’ is free to try small crops of different varieties. Local produce translates to eating foods that are in season. This allows you to enjoy foods when they are the most abundant and generally less expensive.