Why We Love Local

By Jennifer Blair, Spring 2016
#1 Aesthetic 
Visualize a picturesque scene of abundant sensory appeal. Vibrant colors of fresh produce and flowers pile themselves atop rows of tables. Friends and neighbors mingle and mill about, chatting, exchanging recipes, while children chase after one another, grinning with every sample procured. The sun shines. A bird sings. A breeze carries the scent of baked bread and herbs and coffee, allowing you to forget for a moment that you’re crossing an errand off of your to-do list. 

#2 Health 
Eating local food is good for your body and mind. The ingredients acquired at a farmers market enjoy less handling, packaging, and advertising as well as fewer chemicals, hormones, and preservatives than their monoculture agribusiness counterparts tend to necessitate (all of which come with a cost). In other words, you'll find higher quality, fresher food than can be found in most conventional grocery stores these days. (For the love of all that is good and mouth-watering, at least read the ingredients list!) These options lead to incorporating a greater variety into your diet, with offerings that change seasonally and annually. Haven't we all fallen into the rut of the same refrigerator stocking week after week? Farmers markets inspire culinary creativity! Rather than replenishing the same old list, or conducting a search for specific ingredients for a specific recipe, simply show up at market with an open mind, reusable bags, and reasonable budget, then plan your meal(s) based on availability.

#3 Community 
Your social life will thank you. 
Farmers markets foster community. They become an enjoyable, anticipated outing for the whole family. Bring the kids; bring your dog; meet a friend. Moreover, these regular events attract people with similar priorities, similar value systems. Lasting, meaningful relationships are built on such things. As you get to know your farmer, the interconnectedness of your life with theirs becomes apparent and mutual dependence is established. As weekly market meetings become part of your routine, not only are those relationships reinforced, but their foundational philosophies are fortified as well. 

#4 Economics 
Yep, it’s political as well as personal. 

Every dollar spent directly at a farmer’s booth is like a vote for those shared value systems. And more of every dollar will continue to circulate locally, bolstering the economy in your own immediate vicinity. 

            "The typical American farm enterprise gets less than 20 cents out of each dollar that's spent in the supermarket - often much less. When you buy directly from a local farmer, the farmer gets every penny. And because small farms purchase most of their labor, materials, and equipment locally, over 75% of your food dollar re-circulates in the community, creating jobs and keeping our local economy strong” (“Economic Benefits of Buying Local,” Gaining Ground).  

Admittedly, some items might cost more than their counterparts at the franchise grocery down the street. However, because farmers markets tend to sell only wholesome, whole ingredients, there is no danger of those impulse purchases that tempt you from the checkout line. So don’t allow initial sticker shock to deter you. Ultimately, you could enjoy an overall, economic household savings by shopping at market.  

#5 Environment 
The growing practices of small scale farms are almost always more sustainable, including (though not limited to) greater diversity and dedicated stewardship. When a family's livelihood is intricately intertwined with the land base itself, the respect and reasons for it are obvious. Additionally, when you purchase from such farms at a farmers market, that food has travelled fewer miles and involves fewer resources. These reductions result in the consumption of less fossil fuel and emission of a smaller carbon footprint.  

Steven L. Hopp (husband of Barbara Kingsolver and co-contributor to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) writes, "Americans put almost as much fossil fuel into our refrigerators as our cars…Each food item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1,500 miles. In addition to direct transport, other fuel-thirsty steps include processing…, packaging, warehousing, and refrigeration. Energy calories consumed by production, packaging, and shipping far outweigh the energy calories we receive from the food…If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country's oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. That's not gallons, but barrels. Small changes in buying habits can make big differences. Becoming a less energy-dependent nation may just need to start with a good breakfast." 

And the best part? All of these reasons culminate in a cause that is both profound and pleasurable. 

Cause becomes conviction and the moral obligation to consumption becomes clear. A famous quotation from an essay by Wendell Berry has become one of the common mantras among many locavores. He argues that "eaters must understand that eating takes place inescapably in the world, that it is inescapably an agricultural act, and that how we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used" ("The pleasures of eating," What Are People For?). So it’s good for your karma, if you believe in that sort of thing. 

Rather than attempting to convince, I'll simply challenge you instead to experience firsthand the enjoyment and satisfaction local food has to offer. Go ahead. Getting your kitchen-based consumption localized is undoubtedly a process, but it is one that begins first at the Farmers Market. You will be surprised what you can find there. I promise. Making market part of your regular routine is a commitment, but if we expect farmers to commit to being there every week, we owe it to them. And getting to know those farmers is, in my opinion, the best, most satisfying way of becoming healthier, more environmentally sustainable, more economically sound, and more politically engaged than anything else I have found. But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself.