Eating healthily can present a lot of challenges these days. The price of gas is going up, and in turn the price of food is going up, and to top it off, most of the healthy food costs more because it’s not filled to the gills with artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives that make the cost of food go down since it saves giant corporations lots of money. So here, we have an issue of money. But where does the food we buy come from? If we buy healthy food, usually then these products come from small organic farms (that could – I would assume – make a lot more money if they went the conventional route and didn’t give a care about what they do to their food or land with all sorts of chemicals). Most people don’t understand where their food comes from, amazingly. Whether it says that their tomatoes are from 3 states away, all the way on the other side of the country, the other side of the world, or right next door, this makes very little difference to most consumers and they don’t understand the economic, ecological, and even nutritional impact of their choices.

Keep Farmer John on the farm

In a report entitled Losing Ground: Colorado’s Vanishing Agricultural Landscape, by the Colorado Forest Project found that between 1997 – 2002 Colorado lost an average of 690 acres of prime agricultural land per day to residential development! Growing up in the (once) small, sleepy town of Yardley in Pennsylvania, I saw this happen a lot. There was once a lot of open land and a small number of local farms that were less than a mile from my home. Gradually, many of these farms disappeared and in their place popped up giant new residential developments. Is it any wonder, since most of the food you buy at the supermarket barely goes back to the farms that provided us with this food? In 1992 a report was presented to the Joint Economic Committee Symposium which showed that out of every dollar, only 9¢ goes back to the farm that the food came from; the other 91¢ goes to everyone else.. Buying from a farmers market (whether a community one or directly from the farm itself) helps to give more profit to the farmers and helps to ensure that they will be able to provide you with fresh, delicious food products for a time to come.

Think about your wallet

When you buy your food from local farmers, you are helping put money into the economy of your city and state (and thus country). I’m not much for economics (which is why I’m more fit to talk about eating apples than investing dollars), but I think it’s a no-brainer that this is always a good thing. Now another wonderful thing about buying locally grown foods is that generally it’s cheaper! This isn’t always the case, but I would say that depending on the type of farm, and what they grow (or raise) there, most of what you will find is much cheaper than it is at the local supermarket.  The local farm I go to (Shady Brook Farm, right by my old neighborhood in Yardley!) has dirt cheap prices on all-natural produce and other goods. This past weekend, I bought a package of dried pineapple rings for less than $2 and they were delicious! Because of Shady Brook’s low prices, I estimate that my grocery bill is cut in half (even though I pay a premium price for Raw Milk)!

Eat healthy, Be happy

If I live in New Jersey and the potatoes I buy are coming from a farm in Idaho, then that’s quite a distance they need to travel. Is it no wonder that so many of the foods we buy are pumped full of artificial additives and – even more so – chemical preservatives to extend shelf life? From the time the food leaves the farm until the time it gets to your table, it gradually loses nutritional content and so that organic produce that was farmed in South America isn’t going to have all the rich nutrients that organic produce is supposed to have. When you buy from local farms, you are helping to ensure that you get the freshest, healthiest foods that you can possibly buy.

How do you find the farms local to you?

Not everyone is fortunate enough to know of all the farms near them and their farming practices (conventional, all natural, organic).  But thankfully the internet has brought us a number of different ways to help find local farms and farmers’ markets. For me, my first stop is always Local Harvest, which will show you – based on whom has registered an account with them – all the local farm stores and farmers’ markets near your given zip code. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service web page offers a search service so that you may find Farmers’ Markets in your area (though the list is not 100% complete). The Eating Well Guide offers yet another search engine to help you in your pursuit of finding local, sustainable, and organic foods. One thing that I especially like about this web site is that a search will return for you not only information about local farms that you can purchase goods from, but they also list nearby health food stores, bakeries, organizations, and even Bed & Breakfasts’! Lastly, there is the option of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). A CSA is where individuals pay a fee directly to a farm and in exchange, they get a share of that farm’s yield for the season; this is either delivered to one’s home on a weekly basis, or an individual is expected to pick up their crate from the farm (if you’re interested, you can read more about CSA’s on Wikipedia). The USDA’s National Agricultural Library offers a service much like the one I previously linked to that will help you find local CSA‘s, and of course Local Harvest‘s comprehensive site also offers the option to search for CSA’s.

Some final thoughts

While the awareness of being healthy and buying true healthy foods (organics, and not stuff labeled as diet/low fat/low carb/low calorie) is growing considerably year by year, not everyone has a health food store near them and so this leaves an individual with the decision of whether or not to drive far out of the way to the nearest health food store or buy god-knows-what from a conventional grocery store.  Buying from local farms opens many options for everyone and is really a win-win situation. Farms profit, and the consumer gets healthy affordable food without having to go far from home!

You may find that not every farm, farmers’ market, or CSA offers everything that you need. Unfortunately this is unavoidable since local bakeries, farms, and butcher shops have gradually been put out of business over the past century due to giant corporations building super centers (as an aside, watch the documentary WalMart: The High Cost of Low Prices to get the perfect picture). By buying locally, we – as health-conscious and sustainable-mined – are able to undo these drastic changes and help bring fresh and healthy foods to our local area because at least when you spend a dollar at a local farm, they make a dollar and not just a piddly 9¢.

Even if only ½ of your grocery list can be found from a local source, and the other ½ you need to go somewhere else to buy, I strongly urge you to do it anyway. What you do buy will be healthier, fresher, cheaper, and you’ll be actively making an impact. One last site of interest I’ll note is Food Routes which is a fantastic resource center all about buying local.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I need more of those delicious dried pineapple rings!

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