For the Love of Local

Written by leah Kahan

illustrated by ava karim

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As you roam through your local grocery store, many decisions are subconsciously being made. Do you choose your groceries based on price? Based on what seems healthiest? Based on brands you know and trust? Based on what says “organic”? Or based on what you see first?

While everyone may have their own reasons for shopping the way that they do, many consumers today do not understand what they are buying and the effects of the choices that are being made before heading to the checkout line. Decisions on where to purchase food not only affect the consumers themselves — In fact, they even have an impact on larger scale issues like environmental factors, sustainability, efficiency, and support for local businesses.

Money spent on locally grown food directly funds local farms and workers from the surrounding community.  When a community implements a new policy forcing businesses to be more sustainable and environmentally efficient, local businesses are more likely to adapt to environmentally friendly policies.

Local businesses also impact many people on a personal level. Local companies are less likely to do any harm to the surrounding community because the problems they cause have personal effects on their community. Businesses who live in the communities they are impacting are generally more likely to want to support the people and environment in the community that they know on a personal level.

Farmers Markets strive not to produce waste. For example, In 2011 The Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance in Seattle donated 44,000 pounds of fresh quality food to food banks. Acts like these give back to society, and ensure less waste and harm to the environment.

It is also important to note that communities are more self-reliant when they can produce their own goods and provide for their own people. For example, if a community is focused on promoting and supporting local businesses and taking care of the environment around it, the community can run smoothly and successfully without help from outside forces.

With all of these benefits, why do people still go to supermarkets? Many reasons consumers choose to purchase food from supermarkets rather than farmers markets has to do with the convenience of the products. There is a significantly smaller amount of supermarkets accessible, and often outdoor farmers markets operate based on weather conditions that could affect the amount of days that they are opened.

In 2010 only around 15 percent of farmers markets were open in the winter months. It is generally more convenient and faster to choose to purchase food from a local grocery store. In Lane County, Eugene, for example, there are four well known farmers markets: The Winter Market, Holiday Market, Tuesday Market, and Saturday Market.

High prices are often another key reason many consumers are deterred from shopping at farmers markets. This, however, is a common misconception. If you are comparing a bag of chips from a grocery store to vegetables from a farmers market then the grocery store item will be cheaper. However when you are comparing vegetables to vegetables, farmers markets are often actually less if not similarly priced. In Anthony Flaccavento’s price comparison study which examined many communities in the Southeast, 74 percent of the communities’ produce was less expensive at farmers markets compared to supermarkets, on average by 22 percent.

Another key aspect to consider when making the choice is the negative impact of transporting and maintaining food that is not locally grown. Chad Samuels, a worker at the New Season’s market in Seattle, Washington, recently discussed the disadvantages that occur when purchasing organic nonlocal food, as opposed to locally grown food.

“When we order asparagus, it takes a lot more fuel usage to import organically grown asparagus from Brazil rather than from locally grown farms,” Samuels said. “It also has a shorter shelf life requiring us to order more of it more frequently.”

According to The Farmers Market Coalition, more than 85% of farmers market vendors traveled fewer than 50 miles to sell at a farmers markets. Not only does the consumption of locally grown food require less fuel for transporting, which produces less greenhouse gases that pollute the air, but the food is fresher than food transported from farther away

In some cases foods might not be able to be grown naturally in local farms. For example, bananas produced by local farms in areas that are not conducive to its typical growing climate may actually take more energy to produce than to transnationally transport from Guatemala.

Even if it did require more energy to grow food in unnatural lands, this is not a problem for Eugene, a city swarming with locally sustainable businesses and farms.

The Redneck Organic Eugene Farm, as well as other local farms in the Eugene area, are able to produce a large variety of produce. They grow more than 50 different crops in 250 different varieties each year. None of their foods are grown in greenhouses, which can emit harmful gases into the air. The area of Eugene is fit for growing a large variety of produce.

While it is a smart choice to select foods that are convenient and well priced, it is also important to keep in mind how the long term effects of purchasing locally grown food will benefit the consumer and the community. In the future there will hopefully be more farmers markets and better ways for grocery stores to produce foods at a reasonable price without harming the environment.

But for now, as you walk down the aisle of the grocery store or down the street to a local market, how will you make your choice?