Why do you buy locally grown food? Is it the flavor and quality? The chance to build community connections and relationships? To support a strong local economy? To have a positive environmental impact? Most likely, it’s some combination of all the above.
If you’re reading this blog, you likely know that shopping locally, especially for food, has many broad-reaching benefits. One that has received a lot of attention in recent years is local food’s impact on the environment.
Since agriculture and food supply chains are diverse and complex, it’s difficult to discern whether buying local food significantly reduces our carbon footprint. However, there are still important environmental factors to consider when purchasing food for your table.
Preventing Land Loss
Buying from a local farm improves the viability of that business and increases the likelihood that their land will stay in agricultural production instead of being developed into a subdivision or shopping center. When stewarded well, agricultural land provides many ecosystem services – pollinator habitat, healthy soil, deep root systems that capture carbon, and filtration to protect surface and groundwater health – that pavement and large buildings can never replicate.
According to the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, the average American meal travels over 1500 miles before getting eaten. We’re often told local food is better because the food miles are much shorter and, thus, less transportation related emissions occur in moving that food. While this can be true, and shortened travel time has flavor and nutritional benefits, transportation is actually a small percentage of a food’s overall climate impact.
This is the most important factor to consider when eating for the environment.
Not all, but many, direct marketing farms (i.e. the farms you buy from at the farmers market or get your CSA from) use more environmentally friendly farming practices. Cover cropping – plantings that naturally suppress weeds and help build soil quality -, integrated pest management, and rotational grazing are often more commonplace on smaller, direct marketing farms. Some farms have certifications, like Certified Naturally Grown or Certified Organic, that verify their ecologically sound practices while others choose to farm sustainably without third party certification. It’s critical to talk to your farmers about their production systems to determine if they’re aligned with your ecological values. Local farmers markets and farm stands provide opportunities for these important conversations and a strong sense of community that holds producers accountable.
Environmental sustainability is just one of many factors to consider when purchasing the food that goes on your plate. To learn more about the local food businesses near you, and find food you can trust, visit localdifference.org. Or, consider getting some local items delivered with a trustworthy service like Market Wagon.
This article was sponsored by Market Wagon. Market Wagon delivers farm fresh local food from Michigan farms directly to your door in reusable bags and containers. They care deeply about sustainability in their own business practices and the practices of the farms they work with. Learn more about their efforts in this blog and FB Live video.
Kelly Wilson is a registered dietitian, “retired” farmer, and TLD’s Director of Community Partners.