We’ve all heard the phrase “eat local.” But many of us don’t understand why exactly we should be doing so. As a nutrition student studying in Missouri, I have been fortunate enough to experience agriculture first-hand and to meet many different kinds of farmers. Growing up in Rhode Island, I didn’t have much experience with farming. So moving to the Midwest gave me a lot more insight into the world of farming and what it’s actually like to be a steward of the land. In this post, I hope to share with you what I’ve learned, inform you about the actual reasons to eat local, give you specific farming practices to look for, and explain some practical steps you can take to start supporting local farmers. Throughout the post, I have links that you can click on if you’re interested in learning more about these topics!
Supporting local farmers is always important. But it's particularly important now given the widespread shutdown. Farmers across the country are getting hit hard and are having a tough time making ends meet due to the sharp decline in restaurant and farmers market sales.
Why Eating Local Is Important
While simply eating local is great, it’s important to understand exactly why you’re doing it and how it’s benefiting yourself and others. Below is a list of reasons why it’s beneficial to purchase local food.
- Support smaller farms who don’t practice monoculturing
- Get to know your farmers and their farming practices, choose which methods you support (i.e. organic farming, cover crop use, free range animals, etc.)
- Fewer carbon emissions due to shorter distance traveled
- Fewer or no preservatives needed due to shorter distance traveled
- Fresher, better tasting food
Farming Practices To Look For
I recently had the pleasure of listening to a woman from the Missouri Coalition for the Environment speak about good farming practices that consumers should look for when choosing their farmers. I thought it was extremely interesting and I wanted to share some of her ideas here. Below are lists of some “good stewardship farm practices” for both crops and livestock.
- Nutrient management plan in place
- Promotes clean water, clean air, and healthy soil
- Riparian herbaceous cover used
- Improves water quality, provides food for wildlife, reduces erosion, improves soil quality, and promotes desired plant communities
- Pollinator habitat enhancement plan in place
- Supports native and/or managed pollinators
- Crop rotations
- Reduces soil erosion, replaces soil nutrients, reduces need for pesticides, improves soil health, and protects water quality
- Cover crop use
- Prevents soil erosion, provides nutrients to future crops, suppresses weeds, improves soil water availability, and decreases amount of pests
- No-till farming
- Prevents soil erosion and increases soil biodiversity
- Soil testing
- Helps farmers to improve soil nutrients, decrease amount of weeds, increase crop yield, and utilize fertilizer efficiently
- Drip irrigation/microirrigation use
- Reduces water waste and prevents runoff
- Integrated pest management use
- Reduces need for pesticides
- No synthetic growth promotants/antibiotic/added growth hormone free
- Reduces risk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in animals and humans and reduces other potential health risks in humans
- Free range/no animal confinement practices
- Improves animal welfare and cleanliness and enhances crop health
- Fencing and livestock exclusion from waterways
- Improves water quality and prevents pollution
- Grazing management plan in place
- Provides high quality forage to feed livestock, increases crop yield, improves distribution of manure, decreases weed infestations, reduces soil erosion, and improves animal health
- Water and sediment control basin used
- Improves ability to farm on sloped land, improves water quality, reduces gully erosion, and provides cover for small animals
- Field border used
- Reduces erosion, improves water quality, and provides wildlife habitat
- Forage and biomass planting done
- Improves livestock nutrition and health, reduces soil erosion, improves soil health and water quality, and provides cover and habitat for wildlife
What Can You Do?
I know I just threw a lot of information at you. But what is the takeaway? What exactly can we be doing right now to support local farmers and sustainable farming practices? Well, first of all, I encourage you to do some research on farms in your area. Look up where they are, what they grow/raise, where they sell their products, and what farming practices they use. Many local farms will sell at farmers markets and grocery stores, so be sure to read the labels on things that you’re purchasing to find out if they are from a local business. You can also find restaurants in your area that use local food on their menu. Supporting these restaurants also supports the farms they utilize.
Another major way to get involved is to contact your local politicians with messages of support for small, local farms. There are countless laws in place that support “big ag” but squeeze out small- and mid-scale farms, making it more difficult for them to stay afloat and compete in the farming industry. Do some research on policies that support smaller farming organizations and express your support in emails, tweets, or phone calls to your local politicians.
Something else you can do is join or start a community garden in your area. This facilitates gardening in more urban areas and allows people everywhere to access homegrown produce. Another option, if you have a larger yard, is to create a home garden for fruits and vegetables. It doesn’t get much more local than that!
Hopefully you were able to learn something new from this post! Feel free to refer back to it when doing research of your own. Understanding why eating local is important and what sustainable farming practices are is a great place to start! Together, we can make a difference, supporting our local farmers and improving the food system overall!