Large grocery chains are filled with cheap processed foods that contribute to chronic diseases and tempt us to sacrifice our health for convenience. At the same time, Americans are inundated with recall alerts from contaminated industrial farm products grown and packaged in unsafe ways. Buying from local farmers and producers lets you put healthy, fresh, and safe foods at the center of your diet. You can choose to pay the farmer now, or the doctor later.
Several factors determine vitamin and mineral content of foods: the specific variety chosen, growing methods used, ripeness when harvested, processing, and time spent in transport. Farmers who grow for local markets can (and do!) choose varieties based on flavor and nutrition, and they improve soil health to maximize nutrient content. Because your local farmers don’t have to worry about their product traveling thousands of miles, they typically allow produce to ripen in the field to develop their optimal nutrition value. Farmers take many foods directly to market within 24-hours of harvesting, when they are still high in nutrient content. It’s as simple as that: locally grown foods are freshly picked and full of nourishment.
At large industrial farms, the pursuit of high-yielding varieties often comes at the expense of nutritional quality. Production methods that deplete the soil health tend to yield crops with lower nutritional content. Additionally, supermarket fruits and vegetables can spend 7-14 days in transit, and the vitamin content of produce that has been picked early and forced to ripen during transport is often lower than that which ripens right on the plant. Prepared, pre-chopped produce in supermarkets loses protection against nutrient loss when the skin is removed.
Food coming from large factory farms also faces safety problems. Between 2009 and 2018, FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified 40 foodborne outbreaks of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) infections in the U.S. with a confirmed or suspected link to just leafy greens! This is a strain of E. coli that can cause significant health complications. Shipping potentially contaminated food across the country makes recalls more difficult to enact and track. Putting thousands of people’s health at risk.
Many local farmers also raise their animals on pasture. In comparison to conventionally raised proteins, pastured meats, poultry, and eggs are nutrient dense. They are lower in total fat, and possess a more natural balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, along with higher levels of conjugated linoleic acids, all of which reduce the risk of chronic disease.
In addition, when you know where your food comes from, you can choose safe food from farmers who avoid or reduce their use of chemicals, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, or genetically modified seeds in their operations. Talk to your local farmers and ask them about their growing practices.
The takeaway: Research shows that people already visit multiple locations to buy food during the week. Invest in your health by making your first trip to a local producer-only farmers market, retail farm market, CSA or farm stand, then supplement with additional foods from the grocery store. You’ll make worry-free choices that prioritize your health and wellness.