Supporting Local Agriculture: Improving environment, economy, and health

Emerald green peppers, their flesh folded into intriguing peaks and valleys, are boldly paraded alongside bright red shining hills of tomatoes. Joining the march are countless rows of newly-picked red potatoes, tender forest green zucchini, sweet ears of yellow corn nestled in their husks; all this earthly bounty gently warms as the cool morning loses to the heat of the day. The scent gently rises into the air, joining the joyful harmony already singing with the aroma of fresh-cut lilies, spiced lemonade, and homemade coffee cakes. Simple pleasures such as these are not reserved for the small family farm. Farmers’ markets, CSAs (Community-Supported Agriculture), as well as backyard and urban gardens, provide a wealth of positive opportunities and experiences for all involved. Supporting local agriculture lessens the strain on the environment, keeps money circulating in the local economy, and means better all-around health for you and your family.

Industrial agriculture accounts for the majority of what we get from the grocery store today, such as packaged cereal, loaves of bread, and frozen TV dinners. Getting these foods to your local supermarket requires goods to be shipped from all corners of the globe. A variety of packaging materials and refrigeration units are used in this process, all burning more fossil fuels than we can count on in the near future, and the release of more greenhouse gases than we can afford to emit. Local agriculture requires considerably less processing, packaging, and transportation than industrial agriculture, making it less strenuous on our already taxed environment.

Economically speaking, small, local farms often lead to jobs and purchasing of farm supplies from area businesses. This creates opportunities for money to be circulated within the community instead of quickly passing through and only making a minor contribution to the local economy. Also, purchasing a local farmer’s goods helps their family business. Viable small businesses mean a strong, healthy economy, which benefits everyone in the community. Large agricultural corporations value quantity over quality, cutting corners to reduce costs and compromising the food safety consumers take for granted. The quality of animal feed, waste management, worker training, and processing methods of large industrial farms are often compromised. On the other hand, small, local farms are run by farmers whose livelihood is intertwined entangled with the health of their land, employees, and customers. With the farmer’s experienced and discerning eye, healthy, holistic practices are utilized in management and production of quality products. Because they are local it also means a relationship can be built between the farmer and the consumer, one in which questions of practice can be answered for the consumer’s peace of mind and the farmer can know the expectations of his consumer base.

Everyone can make a difference in improving food quality, health, and environmental practices. It’s easier than you think to support local agriculture and community infrastructure! Joining a food co-op or taking a trip to your local farmers’ market means more seasonal fruits and vegetables on the dinner table and less highly processed foods with added sodium, sugar, and fat. A diet filled with superfluous sugar and fat has been scientifically proven to be a major contributor to highly preventable illnesses including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. Simply making yourself aware of the practices, resources, and options of local agriculture will allow you to make better meal time choices and lead a positive example for those around you.

Aside from the “should’s” and “should not’s” of food and its complicated web of political and socioeconomic factors, what should be celebrated are the unique, sensuous delights of participating in local agriculture. Trying out new types of fruits and vegetables, getting in touch with what produce is seasonal (and inevitably the most flavorful and delicious), and simply just getting out and experiencing being an integral part of your community are benefits of local agriculture that everyone can enjoy.

Remember that starting small is okay; it is not necessary to become the world’s foremost authority on agricultural food systems. If you have the space and time, creating your very own backyard garden is a wonderful family project and can supply you with deliciously fresh produce during the growing season. Also, checking out the local farmers’ market to see what is being offered and taking home a few vegetables to taste test is a great way to start.

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