Saturday, June 02, 2007

Support Your Local Farm..How much does your food travel?

I have sort of had an idea of how much some of the produce and meats we consume has to travel. But the effect it has on our environment and us sunk in to me more as I read this piece at sustainabletable's web site.

"Food miles" refer to the distance a food item travels from the farm to your home. The food miles for items you buy in the grocery store tend to be 27 times higher than the food miles for goods bought from local sources.i

In the U.S., the average grocery store’s produce travels nearly 1,500 miles between the farm where it was grown and your refrigerator.ii About 40% of our fruit is produced overseas and, even though broccoli is likely grown within 20 miles of the average American’s house, the broccoli we buy at the supermarket travels an average 1,800 miles to get there. Notably, 9% of our red meat comes from foreign countries, including locations as far away as Australia and New Zealand.iii

So how does our food travel from farm field to grocery store? It’s trucked across the country, hauled in freighter ships over oceans, and flown around the world.

A tremendous amount of fossil fuel is used to transport foods such long distances. Combustion of these fuels releases carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and other pollutants into the atmosphere, contributing to global climate change, acid rain, smog and air pollution. Even the refrigeration required to keep your fruits, vegetables, dairy products and meats from spoiling too soon burns up energy.

Food processors also use a large amount of paper and plastic packaging to keep food fresh (or at least looking fresh) for a longer period of time. This packaging eventually becomes waste that is difficult, if not impossible, to reuse or recycle.

...Buying food from local farms means getting food when it’s at its prime. Fresh food from local farms is healthier than industrially-farmed products because the food doesn’t spend days in trucks and on store shelves losing nutrients.v Food transported short distances is fresher (and, therefore, safer) than food that travels long distances. Local food has less of an opportunity to wilt and rot whereas large-scale food manufacturers must go to extreme lengths to extend shelf-life since there is such a delay between harvest and consumption.

.. Local foods from small farms usually undergo minimal processing, are produced in relatively small quantities, and are distributed within a few dozen miles of where they originate.

I am not trying to get preachy or anything, just saying if we could all try to more cognizant about how the food we eat arrives at our tables we may be better off in how we treat our land and environment. We try to do the right thing and buy as much local produce as we can once the growing seasons begin, and not everyone can do that.

It was at some point last spring that we discovered amongst the suburbia that we live in, there is also the “Highland Orchards Farm” a family owned farm that sits atop this small hill a couple of miles from where we live. This is on my jogging path too and is one of my favorite places to visit on the weekend. The farm has been with the family for years (more about their history at their web site here) and I love to pick up their fresh farm produce including veggies, and fruits and eggs. Even the meats they sell is from places over the state line in Pennsylvania or New Jersey.
A slide show of the pictures from the farm store is below.

Perhaps they are a bit more expensive than the chain grocery a few miles further down, but some things I am just more sentimental about I guess.

Some advantages of supporting a local farm from the sustainable table link…which has a lot of other info as well.

According to the USDA, the U.S. has lost over five million farms since 1935.vii Family farms are going out of business at break-neck speed, causing rural communities to deteriorate. The U.S. loses two acres of farmland each minute as cities and suburbs spread into the surrounding communities.viii By supporting local farms near suburban areas and around cities, you help keep farmers on the land, and, at the same time, preserve open spaces and counteract urban sprawl.


Diana said...

I'm blessed, living in rural Wisconsin, to have lots of fresh produce from the neighboring farms (and my own garden) during the growing season. (Sadly, for the other 8 months of the year, we rely on what's brought in via truck and plane from warmer climes) We also have local meat and dairy goods year round. I noticed that about 10 miles up the road, they're getting ready to open a local foods store in one of the tiny 'drive through' towns. We'll be there as soon as it opens. I think the push to eat locally is no passing phase. At least I hope not. The high price of gas may also push large stores to investigate getting their goods from local growers, which will only benefit us all.

Sugarlips said...

I've lived in MA for 4 years, the best part was fresh produce from neighboring farms. I payed 10 times less than what I was paying at the grocery stores. Everything used to be so fresh and tasted yum :)

Stay Beautiful...!

MONA said...

This is not preachy, It is a wonderful post Sanjay. Khudos to you for being enviornment conscious & helping create the awareness through your blog!
I really appreciate the information you have given out here!

Lotus Reads said...

Sanjay, your post is so timely! Only yesterday I was having a discussion with a friend and we both decided (sort of) to try and join this group of people who have vowed to eat only that which grows in a 100 miles radius from their homes. I say (sort of) because I know it's not easy to eat like that, I would miss my coffee, chocolate and other such goodies, but as far as possible I would like to support homegrown produce and local farmers, besides, it's so much healthier for us.

Your excellent and thoughtful post has given me several other reasons to support food grown locally and I thank you for that!

You might want to look at Barbara Kingsolver's new book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle"...I heard her on NPR not too long back and she was quite an inspiration.

A truly helpful post, thank you!

listmaker said...

Our local grocery store puts signs on what is locally grown and I always try to purchase those items before ones that have been trucked in. I'm also very excited that our new community has a farmers market 3 times a week.

oldwhitelady said...

I'm thinking the local Farmers' Market is sounding really good, about now. I don't think that food has too much distance on it.

Sanjay said...

Diana, Thank you for your comment. Yes I do recall that you are in rural WI and your own gardening skills are pretty good as the last post showed.

I am excited that you will be able to shop at one of those local foods store. I agree the push to eat local is not a passing phase. And thats a good point about large stores thinking of buying locally due to high gas prices. I hope they do.

@Sugarlips. That is so true. Nothing like some fresh produce. Thanks :)

@Mona..Thanks. I hope it helps get some of us thinking? I remember back when in India when we ate what was in season, and here we can get things year round but there is a cost associated with it.

Sanjay said...

Hey there Lotus. :) Thank you so much for your comment and kind words!What you are trying to do is indeed very admirable. I fully support and hope you folks can buy produce from within 100 miles of where you are.

I agree it is not always possible but if we all pitched in it would indeed go a long way. And yes not everything we consume will be from within 100 miles but we can all do our bit I guess.

I will be sure to check out Barbara Kingsolver's book and interview on NPR. Thank you for pointing me to that and for stopping by. Enjoy your weekend. :-)

Sanjay said...

@Listmaker.. Thank you for stopping by, I recall in Connecticut the grocery chain store we would shop at would also label local produce and true that was what we would go for, if we could.
Yay for local farmers markets! We have a few here too. :)

@OWL. Thank you for stopping by, and you are of course right about the low mileage on the local farm produce. Sorry I haven't stopped by your blog in a while, will do so soon!

Lisa Francisco aka AVIANA said...

I would love to have this here in the city of DC or my hometown of NYC. But these places are limited. There needs to be more access to them. i think more people would go to them if they were more accessible.

patches said...

The Missus shops for many of our vegetables at a family owned produce stand. The savings is significant, and the veggies are more flavorful than imports because, they are harvested when mature. I wish we had more options for purchasing meat.

Shionge said...

Hey this is such an interesting post Sanjay so it would be so convenient for you to pick up some grocery isn't it each time you go jogging :D

I can imagine the distance food travel to this part of the world too coz we get fruits from UK, Africa, USA....etc.

starry nights said...

Never thought of food miles before.But I love to shop at the farmers market because of all the fresh produce.

Viewer said...

On this, we indians are pretty lucky... one can get fresh veggies and fish and meat from the local sabji mandi/mutton macchi market

ML said...

That's amazing! Great bit of information and thanks for passing it on.

Lucia said...

Ah, yes, a very good thing of which to be aware.

Unfortunately, at this time of year, if we committed to all local, we'd have big meals of spinach, radishes, and onions, as nothing else is really coming in yet. Oh, except for the strawberries that are just ripening in the yard.

Coffee-Drinking Woman said...

We've bought a share the community-spported farm again this year - received the first produce this week. More veggies that we can use, all summer (except during sweet corn season - then there's never enough...) it's about 50 miles away - much better than 1500, no?

Anali said...

Great post! I've been thinking about buying local foods a lot too lately. I've noticed that even in some large grocery stores they are specifically labeling local produce, which is nice during the winter months. Since it's warm now, I'm looking forward to shopping at the Farmers' Markets. I just found out that there is one a few times a week near where I work. I'm looking forward to shopping there!