By Mary Alice Hartsock
Happy Earth Day, Everyone! Let’s celebrate our planet today by considering ways that we can protect our environment.
Most of us know that buying local foods is good for the environment and supports local farmers. But many of us have questions about the benefits beyond the farmers’ market.
Kylie Ford helps us answer some frequently asked questions about buying local. Ford is an associate with the strategic sustainability management firm Sustrana (formerly Resonate) and former manager of the Bethlehem Farmers’ Market.
Q: What difference am I making if I buy local food?
A: In short, you are making a huge difference, and here is just one example. We all depend on Earth’s natural resources to feed us and keep us healthy. But through pollution, habitat destruction, and the burning of fossil fuels, we are diminishing Earth’s living species of plants and animals. Commercial farming isn’t helping. Most commercially grown produce has little genetic diversity, because only certain varieties are designed to stay fresh as they travel long distances to your table.
To keep up with population growth, we’ll need to significantly increase our food supply in the next few decades. This means we’ll need to produce wider varieties of foods, as is often the practice on family farms. Local farmers do not rely on crops that travel long distances and stay fresh for weeks. Growing wide varieties of foods using practices that promote nutrient-rich soil enables farmers to both help preserve genetic diversity among species and extend their growing seasons.
Q: What are the benefits for me if I buy local?
A: Buying local through farmers’ markets or community supported agriculture gives you access to incredibly fresh, delicious foods and also to the farmers who grow them. If you are concerned about pesticides, you can ask farmers how their food is produced. If you are purchasing eggs or meat, you can ask whether the animals receive antibiotics and hormones, what they eat, and what conditions they live in. You can even visit many family farms, which is interesting and fun for the kids.
Q: If I buy my food locally, will I be able to get stuff that I like year-round?
A: One of the great things about buying local is that it encourages you to try new things. No, you won’t be able to get all the foods you enjoy year-round, but you might try some new foods and use your imagination as you discover new recipes. If you must buy foods that aren’t ever available locally, try to do so in moderation.
Q: Isn’t local food more expensive?
A: Sometimes. But you can always try to negotiate with your farmers to identify prices that work for both of you. Just remember, with any extra dollars you spend, you are helping to make a difference for the environment by reducing the distance your food travels, helping to preserve open space, supporting the habitats of local wildlife that resides near farms, and supporting your community and farmers. Down the road, you will be glad you contributed to preserving our environment for your children and grandchildren.
Q: Should I consider a farm share or CSA?
A: Farm share programs, often referred to as community supported agriculture, or CSA, are one way to obtain local foods on a regular schedule. At the beginning of a growing season, individual “subscribers” or “members” purchase weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly shares from a farmer or community farm organization. Members then pick up their regular shares or receive deliveries according to a set schedule. CSAs provide insurance for farmers, because if weather or other conditions affect the harvest, farmers will be financially protected.
When farmers have great yields, the customers reap the benefits. If you get more food than you can handle, you can freeze or dehydrate it to use later, or you can share your share with a friend!
The Academy of Natural Sciences participates in the Delaware Valley Farm Share and is one of three public pickup sites. Every other week, employees, neighbors, and friends who subscribe to the share receive fresh local produce, eggs, and other select items for pickup at the Academy. You can participate in the Academy’s Farm Share starting now! Sign up for the summer share, which consists of 12 deliveries from June through November, by Friday, May 1. Click here and visit the Delaware Valley Farm Share’s website for more information.