In 2001, when Rich Pirog wrote that our food typically travels 1,500 miles from the farm where it is grown to where we actually eat it, he got many of us thinking about where our food comes from. I remember that thought reaffirmed my long-standing passion to eat locally grown food that might help me better manage my type 2 diabetes. And no food that I eat is more local than the vegetables I grow in my own garden.
Pirog, then the education coordinator at Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, presented his research in an obscure report. But it attracted nationwide attention.
A “food mile” is the distance food travels from where it is grown or raised to where it is ultimately purchased. Pirog used this measurement as a simple metaphor to contrast local versus global food systems and their resulting fuel usage and levels of greenhouse gas emissions. However, he does recognize the limitations of focusing only on “food miles,” noting that food grown far away from our table isn’t always harder on the environment than locally grown food. Higher food miles for some foods don’t always translate into higher energy use, he says. And foods grown locally in greenhouses might use more energy than foods grown in open fields and transported across the country.
But locally grown food, he maintains – and I agree – has benefits, including:
Freshness, taste, quality
Knowing the food story
Supporting the local economy
Consumer connection back to the land
All these advantages are even more compelling when we grow some of the food we eat, rather than just buying local. Nothing gets us closer to the land than gardening! What we grow ourselves may also be less expensive, and working in a garden can even burn a few calories (about five times the calories of sitting and watching TV!).
Some researchers think gardening may even make us happier!Researchers at two universities in Texas found that older adult gardeners (aged fifty or older) had significantly higher scores in their zest for life, in their levels of optimism, and in three other measures of satisfaction than non-gardeners. Gardening can also be a great way to get active and sneak in some of the recommended two-and-a-half hours of physical activity we need each week.
I live in an apartment complex, which is the sort of place that doesn’t always have garden plots. But my neighbor has a small plot that we share, so I can grow some of my vegetables there.
For things I can’t grow myself, there are luckily several options for buying locally grown food. For instance, I buy my eggs from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, one of more than 4,000 in the US (find one near you here). With a CSA, farmers offer a certain number of “shares” for purchase. Typically, you can purchase a “share” and receive a box of seasonal produce each week during the farming season. In season, I also shop at a farmers’ market, which is sometimes even easier to locate than a CSA, as there are nearly 8,000 now! Find a farmers’ market here. The rest of my food comes from a natural foods store, and it is locally grown when possible.
So, yes, you can find locally grown, fresh food from more than one source. But in my mind, growing at least a little of your own food in your own garden, out in nature, just can’t be beat.
This is a mirror of one of my articles that The DX published.