Nutritional Benefits of Shopping Local

Produce for sale at Better Farm's roadside stand.
On average, the food that lands on our tables from a grocery store travels 1,500 miles. And get this: Only about 10 percent of the fossil fuel energy used in the world’s food system is used for production. The other 90 percent goes into packaging, transportation, and marketing of the food. All this inefficiency creates many environmental problems.

Buying local has obvious benefits: supporting local business, cutting down on fossil fuel consumption for transportation, and food that has been treated with fewer (if any) harmful chemicals. But did you know local food inherently has higher nutritional value, as well?

The length of time that produce stays on the vine, ground, or tree contributes to nutrient content and flavor. The longer foods are able to ripen naturally on the vine, the higher their nutrient content, and usually, the richer their taste.

But to ship long distances (whether organic or generic), produce is picked before it is ripe. In some cases, as in the case of tomatoes, they are picked when green and then ripened with a gas in the states to turn them red. Nutrient content and taste are substantially affected in this process.

It’s a double-edged sword. Global shipping opens our access to fruits and vegetables we might not be able to get in the States, as well as offering us potentially lower prices. It also enables us to enjoy most fruits and veggies year-round, instead of just seasonally. But nutrient loss and a lack of flavor are the obvious trade offs.

Locally grown food is safer because small farmers do not use chemicals as much as large commercial growers use them, according to the Center for a New American Dream. The farmers’ market products may not all be organic, but those foods tend to be healthier than grocery store products—especially if chemicals and pesticides are a concern. Many vendors at farmers’ markets have recognized the need and desire for healthier, chemical and hormone-free foods and tout their organic, pesticide-free grow practices.
Some countries are working to pass laws to promote the selling of in-season fruits and vegetables in the hopes that it will encourage consumers to purchase more local goods (British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey is working to get such a law passed in the UK). Buying foods that are in season would increase our access to nutrients and better tasting items. Clearly, this is why the “local” movement is growing so rapidly.

Fruits and vegetables you find at farm stands and farmers' markets are picked when perfectly ripened. This enhances the taste, texture, and aroma of the produce. Double bonus: market prices at stands and markets are lower than at grocery stores. Shopping at the Farmers Market benefits the local farmer and strengthens your local community. 

Since the produce is picked at the peak of the season, nutrients and phytochemicals will be more abundant. Hippocrates said, “Let food be your medicine.” The following chart shows many of the health benefits of fresh produce according to color:
Chart from sparkpeople

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.