Buy local? You probably hear this all the time and wonder why the heck you should. It sounds all nice and supportive of the local economy but what impact does it have on your life or health other than a feel good sensation akin to patting yourself on the back? Isn’t it really just a local version of “buy American” or something? Actually, there are 7 very good health reasons for eating fresh foods grown by local farmers. Here’s what they are.
#1 – Boost Your Immunity
In today’s world we have so many autoimmune diseases, allergies and digestive problems – just to name a few. It seems new immune issues pop up every day. Fruits and vegetables that were grown in their native, nutrient dense soils are rich in probiotics. Not only that, locally grown produce that has not been scrubbed off and sanitized still contains soil based organisms (SBOs) which support gut health and immune response.
More than 800 studies exist in scientific literature that reference soil‐based organisms. Their common denominator is that they link SBOs to successfully treating a wide variety of health conditions, including:
- irritable bowel syndrome
- ulcerative colitis
- nutrient deficiencies
- autoimmune and inflammatory diseases
- bacterial, fungal and viral infections
We now know that SBOs nourish cells in the colon and liver and actually create new compounds, such as B vitamins, vitamin K2, antioxidants and enzymes. SBOs can destroy or crowd out harmful pathogens, such as candida, fungi and parasites. They also kill off bad bacteria that can bind to or puncture the gut wall. They’ve been shown to bind to toxins and extract them from the body. SBOs also help regulate the immune system and naturally reduce inflammation in the gut and throughout the entire body.
Decades ago, vegetable gardens and flower beds dotted almost every backyard, putting people in close contact with the earth. Kids played outside in the woods from dawn to dust, often after taking care of animals on a farm. We can’t reverse time and progress has generally been a good thing. All of that progress, however, comes with a price and we must be mindful not to get rid of the benefits along with the problems. Local farmer’s markets are the missing link back to this natural inoculation that most of us no longer access.
Purchasing a bunch of organically grown carrots or whatever other produce you enjoy at your local farmer’s market is a great way to get your daily intake of SBOs. You’re going to be far better off simply rinsing them under running water instead of scrubbing them with a brush and some kind of produce wash because the surface area of every vegetable or fruit contains beneficial microbes. Doing this you can take in an average 500 milligrams of old‐fashioned dirt each day, the same amount the average child consumes when playing outdoors – with all the SBOs you can want.
#2 – Increase Your Nutrient Quality
Why is a carrot grown in your county more nutritious than the one growing across the country or overseas? Isn’t a carrot a carrot? Actually, no. Here’s why.
Ticking clock. Local food has a shorter time between harvest and your table, and it is less likely that the nutrient value has decreased. Food imported from far-away states and countries is often older, has traveled and sits in distribution centers before it gets to your store. All that time the food is aging and losing nutrition.
Large scale. Buying from large-scale food brands brings up questions of quality. Modern high yield growing practices have seen over a 20% decrease in nutrition values over the past few decades. In general, small-scale local farmers have better quality produce and livestock. For more on this, read The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker.
Out of season. Buying foods according to their best fit season is a huge tip to achieve ultimate nutrient density. Because of mass farming tactics, foods that are not locally grown (and in season) are available to eat year-round. That doesn’t mean they are just as healthy. Researchers in Japan found a threefold differences in the vitamin C of spinach harvested in summer as opposed to winter. Foods have their seasons for optimum nutrient load. When you buy local, you’re eating on that calendar to reap the benefits.
#3 – Eat Food That’s Actually Fresh
When you buy food at the supermarket from a big brand name, you rarely know when that food was picked or the meat processed. If you’re lucky, you just get a “best by” date. Many times produce at local markets has been picked within 24 hours of your purchase – sometimes that same morning – and you can ask that local butcher about the meat’s freshness. Since neither had to ship a thousand miles or more, it’s a good bet they’re pretty fresh.
#4 – Decrease the Likelihood of Extra Processing
Speaking of freshness, by the time our food reaches us from Indonesia, Mexico, New Zealand or Brazil, it’s literally traveled thousands of miles but more goes on than a nice ride on a boat, train, plane or truck. We’ll ignore how the food is actually grown in these far-flung places and how our international food companies can possibly monitor farming practices globally when they’re sourcing from thousands of producers. Let’s just focus on what happens as the food gets harvested and travels those thousands of miles.
Gas and ammonia. It would be great to have fresh tomatoes and berries all year round, but eating seasonally means avoiding “artificial ripening” with gases or eating a bland version of a fruit or vegetable that isn’t yet ripe. Meanwhile your meat gets injected with ammonia, among other unlabeled processes, to kill bacteria. All this costs flavor, let alone subjecting your food to unknown chemicals.
Natural flavors. One of the most startling aspects of shipping meat like ground beef or ground pork for example, is the introduction of “natural flavors” into the ingredient list for them. That and to mask the poor quality of most commercial meat these days. Natural flavors can be derived from natural ingredients or mixed in a test tube. There’s usually nothing natural about them and they are an additive. When you see them, they’re a very good indicator of poor quality food since a manufactured flavoring must be added to make it taste better.
Heated. When you buy canned vegetables and beans, they’ve been lightly processed. This means cooked, so automatically they’ve lost nutrition (let alone the salts and other ingredients added to them as preservatives). But even commercial yogurt and other “healthy” sounding foods (like kimchi) get heat-treated as a safety check, whether needed or not due to the shipping lengths or international safety requirements needed to get to your local shelf. This heat treatment nullifies most of the benefits you were supposed to have gotten since it will kill the good bacteria as well as the bad. With local, you have far less chance of this happening.
Irradiated. Food irradiation primarily extends the shelf-life of irradiated foods by effectively destroying organisms responsible for spoilage and food-borne illness and inhibiting sprouting or ripening. This sterilization of foods also controls for insects and invasive pests. While this may be necessary to prevent contamination problems for consumers, it isn’t a free lunch.
Irradiation may not make food radioactive, but it does cause chemical reactions that alter the food and therefore alters the chemical makeup, nutritional content, and the sensory qualities of the food. It also produces radiolytic products, and free radicals in the food. Basically everything – fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, seafood and even coffee beans – gets irradiated before it reaches your local shelf, again thanks to the long shipping times, safety considerations for international trade, and uncertain sanitation it will have gone through – not to mention allowing the food to sit longer on the shelf so food companies can sell it profitably.
Waxed. Fruit and vegetables often get waxed to preserve them so they can transport or sit on shelves longer without spoiling. Wax is also used to “beautify” the product and give it that shine of presentation that lures in shoppers. Washing with water really doesn’t do anything to remove the coating. Waxes can be vegetable-based or made with petroleum, solvents, shellac-based wax or resin, or other ingredients. All are supposedly food-grade safe and approved by the FDA. Even so, you may feel like me and prefer to skip even a small dose of petroleum or solvents.
Engineered. These days everyone has patents out on how to make peels, rinds, leaves, etc. more resistant to decay but not through natural selection for hardiness. Instead, they’re turning to chemicals (not to be confused with pesticides) that alter the makeup of these parts of the actual food or “natural” methods that add a new protective outer coating. Some claim to be organic (and are looking to partner with organic producers who may or may not acknowledge this addition in their labeling) but at the end of the day, they’re adding new substances to our food without us knowing it. These haven’t been through long-term health studies either to see if they’re actually as innocuous as claimed. While feeding the world is a noble cause, I’d like to know when I’m eating frankenfoods or additives and opt out.
#5 – It Might Actually Be Organic
Food in grocery stores and chains gets sourced from all over the world. For instance, how many times have you seen a display of big brand fruit (example: Driscoll) with organic sitting next to regular, both packaged the same, looking the same, tasting the same and coming from the same foreign farm with the only difference being the organic label and price? Do you really think the one labled organic really is? Please.
Local growers can tell you how the food was grown. You can ask what practices they use to raise and harvest the crops or livestock. You can even drive by their farms, visit them, and ask around about their practices too. When you know where your food comes from and who grew it, you know a lot more about that food. It’s far easier to police the bad practitioners at your local farmer’s market than the ones coming to you from Suriname (not to pick on Suriname).
#6 – There’s More Flavor
When grown locally, the crops are picked at their peak of ripeness versus being harvested early in order to be shipped and distributed to your local retail store. Many times produce at local markets has been picked within 24 hours of your purchase. Fresh meat doesn’t get “natural flavors” added to it either to mask the smell of ammonia or make up for the poor quality of its flavor or poor quality period. Eating seasonally also results in the most delicious and nutrient-dense produce. Small scale farming methods will likely not be as damaging to the taste as the large-scale monocultured produce which go for yield over quality.
#7 – Decrease the Risk of Contamination
The more steps there are between you and your food’s source the more chances there are for contamination. Food grown in distant locations has the potential for food safety issues at harvesting, washing, shipping and distribution. Some foods also undergo extra safety checks that further degrade its nutrition in the form of heat treatments and irradiation. You may not get E. coli (yay! this is good) but you won’t get all the health benefits that you’ll find at your local producer since they didn’t need to worry about irradiating that shipment of beef from Brazil.
Take Control of Your Food
So much goes into raising, harvesting and shipping food before it reaches you at a sale point. Some of this might be necessary and some of it might be for cosmetic purposes to earn a dollar. A food’s true journey might as well exist in a black box for how well we can actually trace it. When you buy local, you have fewer steps in the process and little need for most of the chemical tampering or much less risk of contamination that comes from that thousand mile plus journey. Eating local means adjusting your immunity to the local biome for better resilience and gut health, eating freshly picked or fully raised food at its ripest and most nutritious from people whose farms you can actually visit. To me, these health benefits are incredibly important.
If you buy local, you’ll also support your local economy of course and cut down on the environmental footprint of food production. These are good things but the reason why we eat in the first place is for nutrition. Let’s never forget that if we want to live healthy.
Like this article? Share it so that others can learn these health secrets and start living their best lives now.