“Buy local!” they say.
Wouldn’t that be great if we had an abundance of different types of food at our fingertips? Unfortunately I like to drink coffee almost everyday, and it doesn’t exactly grow in my backyard, especially in the middle of our freezing cold, snowy Iowa winters. The average person eats 1,400 pounds of food per year, so we can’t grow it all ourselves, but there are times though when it’s possible — and important — to buy local. Here are my top seven reasons why buying local is so valuable.
1. You help the local economy.
When you spend money in your own community, that sparks an involved community atmosphere where the money can also be circled around to other small locally owned family businesses. You can attract more tourists and grow the popularity of your area while supporting those who support you!
2. You reduce your carbon footprint.
When you buy local, food wasn’t shipped from God knows where. This substantially cuts down on fuel, natural resources, CO2 emissions, etc.
3. It’s sometimes cheaper!
When you buy local, you’re eliminating a lot of middle men and the overhead costs can sometimes be more inexpensive than the big guys, passing that savings along to you.
4. You know your farmer.
People like to know where their food comes from, but I think farmers like to know where it goes, too! For example, the very first package of T-bone steaks I sold from our farm was purchased by a man celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary with his wife. He then came back and shared the story of how good the steaks were, and it felt good to know that the food we produce is going toward lasting memories. Building relationships between farmers and consumers is important. You learn exactly who produced your food, how, and why and the service is often better. How were the animals raised? How were the crops grown? Why are things done the way they are and what makes that product so unique and tasty?
5. You support small family business, rather than huge corporations.
The cashier at Walmart probably doesn’t care when you buy meat, produce, etc. They’ll collect a paycheck regardless, and there’s no real connection to your food and how it’s produced. When you buy from a small business that’s just trying to get by or get started, chances are they are doing a little “happy dance” every time they make a sale at your local market.
6. Farmers markets are expensive — and hard work.
I sell at farmers markets, and it can be stressful at times to wonder if all the hard work is worth it. There are farmers market fees, registration and licensing, food safety inspections, warehouse fees, processing and inventory, along with all the other business overhead costs. Plus the time and effort, marketing, fuel, time, etc. When you buy direct from farmers markets, you are supporting all these little costs that can really wear on a small, beginning family business. Encourage your neighbors to keep going by supporting them!
7. You learn what’s in season and how it’s produced.
What can be better than seeing how your food is grown? When, why, where, by who, and how? We sometimes take for granted all the amazing abundance our grocery stores have to offer, but when you see all the hard work that goes into making it, you may think twice about food waste and have a better appreciation for it all. And also … it usually tastes better!
Sometimes the label “local” can be a gray area. Restaurants or grocery stores could say “local,” which basically means “United States” or “North America.” There’s really not a standardized way to define it. “Local” pineapples … grown in Wisconsin? I’m not so sure about that, ha. But overall, if you follow these tips above, these are some very good ways to do your best. Farmers deserve respect no matter the size, region, or label. Try to support them directly whenever possible, we certainly appreciate it.
Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is an Iowa-based farmer, public speaker, and writer, who lives and works with her boyfriend on their farm, which consists of row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers